James Ramsbotham, chief executive of North East England Chamber of Commerce, explains why expansion of Heathrow should be top of the Government’s post-Brexit agenda.

AT midnight tonight, the UK heads into a new chapter. As we go forward, it’s more important than ever that we continue to set out our stall as the outward looking, global trading nation our small island is renowned for.

However, if we plan on achieving this vision and remaining competitive on the world stage, we need to ensure that businesses across the UK, including here in the North-East, stand to benefit.

That means our regional connectivity is vital. Our local businesses – from Caterpillar in Peterlee to our growing digital tech firms – need access to global markets to export their products, grow their customer base and generate further ideas for innovation. Luckily, the Government already has the solution in its in-tray: Heathrow expansion.

We have two fantastic airports here in the North-East. Both Newcastle and Teesside have seen significant investment in recent years and provide a great offering to local businesses looking to move their products. Last week’s announcement by Teesside of seven new routes to destinations across the UK and Ireland was hugely encouraging – domestic connectivity is crucial for the movement of goods, services and people across our country.

The Northern Echo:

However, Newcastle International Airport is currently the only airport in the North-East served by Heathrow and plays a vital role in connecting the region to the rest of the UK and international markets. In order for the benefits of connectivity to be fully realised we need increased access to the UK’s hub airport. A hub airport represents the most efficient way of connecting passengers, businesses and their exports to destinations across the world. But because the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow, is now full, access to many of these markets is currently not possible. This is why the expansion of Heathrow is so important.

The Northern Echo:

An expanded Heathrow could see an increase in routes to Newcastle and new routes to Teesside. Nearly half a million passengers already travel back and forth each year from Heathrow to Newcastle, while businesses across the North-East exported over £13.2bn-worth of goods to global markets in 2019. Expansion could mean a local business in Durham exporting products to Delhi, a tourist from Toronto visiting Tyneside, a student from Nanjing in China attending Newcastle University.

Expansion will enable the doubling of cargo capacity at Heathrow and the creation of up to 40 new long-haul trading routes, helping more businesses across the North-East trade with the world. Put simply, expansion will mean increased access to global markets for businesses, new destinations for tourists to explore, and straightforward journeys for students drawn to the North-East by our range of world class universities.

Expansion is therefore a hugely exciting prospect. We could also see one of Heathrow’s Logistic Hubs (offsite manufacturing sites) located here in the North-East. With so much local expertise in advanced manufacturing and construction in the North-East, Heathrow is keen to begin early engagement with companies here in the North-East to ensure that we maximise the opportunities presented by expansion through procurement. I look forward to welcoming the Heathrow team later this year who we will be coming to visit the region to view the capacity here in the North-East first hand.

It is no surprise that Parliament, businesses and unions across the country support Heathrow expansion. For too long it has been the subject of political wrangling but with such overwhelming parliamentary support and a very clear mandate, expansion is an “oven ready” infrastructure project ready to invest £14bn, at no cost to the taxpayer, which can truly help level up the North-East.

Now is the time to get on and deliver – for passengers, businesses and tourists alike.