WILLIAM HAGUE yesterday offered a personal plea to local people to support their local airport, but said that building a new runway at Heathrow would not guarantee the region access to the capital.

Mr Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Richmond MP, visited Durham Tees Valley Airport to discuss its future with director Hugh Lang and the prospective Conservative candidate for Darlington, Edward Legard.

Mr Hague said: “The airport has clearly had a huge knock with a loss of the regular flights to London, which means its passenger numbers are down by more than a half on the previous year, but its management are determined to keep the place going and to try to attract new flights – so all of us locally must assist and support that process.

“In particular, it would be very positive if some sort of connection with a London airport were re-established.”

However, he admitted it was not something politicians could influence directly.

“It depends on someone being willing to fly a commercial service,” he said.

“Politicians can’t order that to happen, but we can, over time, construct policies so that such things are easier and encouraged.”

Labour believes that building a third runway at Heathrow would allow greater access for regional airports to the London hub.

But Mr Hague is opposed for environmental reasons and because he believes a bigger Heathrow would attract more international flights rather than regional ones.

“It is not clear why Heathrow should become the bus stop for a large number of international travellers changing planes without contributing to the British economy,”

he said.

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, in whose constituency much of Durham Tees Valley Airport lies, said: “If you don’t want a third runway, you are writing off regional aviation.

“By closing their minds to it, the Tories are driving a coach and horses through their transport policy.”

Mr Hague said that Tory proposals for a slimmed down, private sector-led regional development agency (RDA) could enable the airport to thrive. “I don’t think there are many defenders of doing it in the way Labour has with every part of Britain having a RDA with a top heavy bureaucracy,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean getting rid of effective economic promotion of the North-East or Yorkshire.”

Mr Wilson said: “If it ain’t broke why fix it? One North- East is doing an excellent job as an RDA. The Tories completely underestimate the need for a strategic approach to create employment and support something like the airport.”