The ongoing uncertainty around development at Heathrow must be a wake-upo call to the Stormont Executive Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has claimed.
Speaking after comments by British Airways’ owner IAG that the company could give up on Heathrow and move overseas, he said all those who care about Northern Ireland’s only link to the national hub should be alert to the potential danger.
Lord Empey’s warning comes as IAG CEO Willie Walsh warned that additional charges to fund a third runway could force the carrier to look elsewhere.
“Mr Walsh said that BA could ‘develop our business’ in Dublin or Madrid, rather than pay for the expansion of Heathrow.
“For the last three years I have been warning of the dangers of Northern Ireland becoming isolated from the nation’s main hub airport at Heathrow.”
As uncertainty about airport development grows senior DUP MLA and former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson also weighed in with a sharp attack on the the government’s delay on a decision whether to build a third runway at Heathrow.
Describing the reasons given as “transparently false” he stressed the impact connectivity has for the Northern Ireland economy.
“The announcement that the government is to delay a decision on the expansion of airport capacity in the SE of England is a bad blow for the UK economy and will hurt the NI economy.
“It is a cowardly decision driven purely by selfish electoral considerations.”
Despite assurances by Prime Minister David Cameron that a decision over the much-debated third runway at Heathrow would be made by Christmas, that decision has evolved this week into a ‘direction’.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin refused to rule out a further delay to the decision on where to put new airport capacity in the South East of England.
He said he “hoped” that the Government would now be in a position to choose between the options at Heathrow and Gatwick by next summer.
Lord Empey said he had lobbied in Brussels last week meeting, among others, Michael Cramer MEP, the chairman of the EU Parliament’s Transport Committee
Stating that his concerns had been “understood and well received,” he said he had now also written to Mr McLoughlin, the Stormont Minister for Regional Development and also the Stormont Regional Development committee to raise awareness of the fragile nature of the vital economic link to Heathrow.
“While some have listened and responded positively, there seems to be a complacent attitude in government about the dangers we face,” he said.
“I welcomed the proposal to give the Assembly power to set the rate of Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland, having campaigned for that for many years, but any advantage gained from that would be swept away if we lose vital air route connections, especially to London,” he added.
“It’s long past time that governments both in London and Stormont wake up to the dangers inherent in this fast developing situation.
“A top level meeting is needed with Patrick McLoughlin MP and other Ministers and this should be co-ordinated by the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers MP and involving Stormont Ministers and MLAs.
“My Bill is a platform to raise the issue in Parliament, but what is needed is urgent action to avoid an economic disaster.”