Midlands prosperity 'depends on airport expansion'
The West Midlands will end up an "economic backwater" and have more in common with Tyneside than the south of England if expansion of Birmingham International Airport is blocked, it has been claimed.
Director of communications for the airport John Morris and Lib Dem MP for Solihull Lorely Burt joined forces to back plans for a 400 metre extension of the airport runway to allow long-haul flights to operate.
Environmentalists and local campaigners claim it will lead to extra noise pollution and be bad for the climate.
The two sides clashed during a public debate in Solihull town centre ahead of the borough council deciding on whether to grant permission for the expansion on April 25.
Lorely Burt, Lib Dem MP for Solihull, said she supported the move, despite her party opposing the expansion of Heathrow.
She said: "I am in favour of it on balance. The economic arguments are what swayed me. If we are not in a position to be able to compete internationally we will fall behind and the West Midlands will look more like Tyneside than the south of England."
The expansion plans are forecasted to increase passenger numbers at BIA from nine million currently to about 27 million by 2030.
Research shows that of those in the West Midlands who fly, currently only 36 per cent use BIA. The rest go to rival airports such as Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester.
Mr Morris said: "The primary driver for that is our runway is not long enough to get the take off weights to deliver the range of destinations for long haul flights.
"We can get to the east coast of the US but no further in that direction. We can reach Dubai and Delhi but not right across Asia where the emerging markets are. That means the region is at a disadvantage."
Mr Morris added: "Four hundred metres of tarmac and 180 acres gets the region the world. This is about regional pride and position.
"We either become an economic backwater or we become global and engage with the world properly. It is that black and white."
Mr Morris claimed the effects of aircraft pollution would be offset by saving seven billion kilometres in road trips caused by air travellers journeying elsewhere between 2012 - when the runway is set to open - and 2030.
But Chris Williams, of the West Midlands branch of Friends of the Earth, said: "By 2050, 70 per cent of contribution to climate change will be from air travel. We can’t expect to reduce everything else to allow aviation to carry on as normal."