Business and the unions: We both back a third Heathrow runway – now get on with it

The Debate Over The Third Runway At Heathrow Airport Continues
Heathrow expansion will create thousands of new jobs across the country (Source: Getty)

We often read in the press about the latest bust-up between the unions and the business community. Yet there are any number of policies we agree on, especially those that help to deliver high-skilled quality employment and sustainable growth. Equally, we both get disappointed when the government falls short of the mark, particularly when the opportunity a solution presents is so apparently obvious.

One such example is the need for the government to get on and swiftly implement the Airports Commission’s recommendation to build a new runway in the South East – yet so far all we have had is dithering and delaying tactics. We are angered that ministers have yet again delayed a final decision about where to build a new runway.

Indeed, with concerns growing about the health of the global economy and with growth prospects worsening in recent months for every member of the G7 including Britain, the OECD has called on the richer countries of the world to invest in quality infrastructure projects in order to boost flagging growth. We agree with this approach and believe that a new runway in the South East should be at the top of the government’s priority list for new infrastructure.

The government has said that it has made the decision to delay because it wants to do more environmental analysis. We too believe that airport expansion can and must be delivered sustainably. We don’t think we should be forced to make a false choice between securing the future of the planet and our future prosperity when the fact is we don’t have to. The independent Committee on Climate Change has already found that a 60 per cent growth in flights to 2050, compared to 2005 levels, is compatible with our carbon reduction targets.

We care about airport expansion because we believe it is an issue of national importance and fundamental to securing future jobs and growth – not just for London, but for the whole of the UK. Let us be clear: we believe this latest delay is bad for jobs, bad for growth and bad for the long-term health of the economy.

The economic case for the Airports Commission’s preferred option is abundantly clear. Research by PwC for the Commission found that a new runway at Heathrow would deliver 70,000 new jobs and £147bn in GDP, while under one economic scenario this rose up to 180,000 new jobs nationwide and up to £211bn in GDP over a 60 year period.

And we’re not just talking about new jobs at the airport, airlines or within the wider aviation sector such as pilots, cabin crew or air traffic controllers, even though thousands of new skilled jobs like these will indeed be created.

The construction of a new runway would be one of Britain’s biggest engineering and infrastructure projects since the design and construction of Concorde in the 1950s, and will create an abundance of new quality jobs for people right across the country.

Building the new runway will facilitate new employment for architects, builders, engineers and electricians in the construction sector, hoteliers looking to attract more international visitors from across the world, shop-keepers and other small businesses in and around the airport, manufacturers and even Scottish salmon farmers looking to export their goods to new markets. Much of this new employment will be in high-skilled and specialist professions and therefore well-paid. And these will not just be decent jobs in London and the South East, but in every corner of the country from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

And in a country whose youth unemployment rate is three times the national average, higher still in some of the most deprived and socially excluded areas of London, a new runway at Heathrow would double the number of apprenticeships at the airport to 10,000, ensuring more young people are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in life.

Not only will growth be sustainable economically but also environmentally. On both noise and air quality, the Airports Commission has put forward a strong package of mitigation measures to deal with the environmental impacts associated with the recommendation to expand Heathrow. This included a legally binding guarantee that a new runway will not breach air quality limits, a ban on night flights, a £1bn community compensation scheme, and the establishment of a much-needed Aviation Noise Authority.

So unions and the business community stand ready to work together with government to deliver the new runway, the biggest construction project in generations. But first we need ministers to get on and make a final decision as swiftly as possible and to give the green light.

Every time the government delays a decision, it results in an associated delay in new jobs, new apprenticeships and greater prosperity. Every further period of indecision risks our economic competitiveness and helps our global competitors to edge ahead.

This is why, on airport expansion, we will continue to speak with one voice. Our simple message to government is “get on with it”.

Diana Holland is assistant general secretary of Unite and Baroness Jo Valentine is chief executive of London First.

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