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Manchester mayor: 'Scrap Heathrow third runway and rebuild HS2 case'

Manchester airport terminal under construction

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has claimed that High Speed 2 (HS2) can act as a catalyst for increasing capacity at both Birmingham and Manchester airports, replacing the need for a third runway at Heathrow. 

Burnham said he would like to see the case for HS2 rebuilt around this proposal, while speaking at an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) panel discussion about the contents of the National Infrastructure Strategy which is currently being drafted by the government.

At the discussion, Burnham reiterated his support for both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail saying both were needed to rebalance the UK’s economy. But he warned that but that over many years the case for HS2 had not been made properly.

Burnham argued that the case for HS2 should be re-evaluated alongside Heathrow’s expansion plans for a third runway by using the connectivity provided by HS2 to use spare capacity at Birmingham and Manchester Airports first.

“If you’re building a railway line which goes to both Birmingham and Manchester International Airports, do we really need another runway in London and the South East?” he asked.

“The case, in my view, needs to be looked at very differently for HS2. I believe the argument would be to use the capacity at Manchester Airport, it has two runways already and it’s running at 50% to 60% capacity and that would be a rebalancing of the economy.”

Although the airport expansion itself is being paid for by private cash, Burnham said the public money saved by not having to upgrade the infrastructure surrounding Heathrow could be used elsewhere.

The Landing the Right Airport report published by London mayor Boris Johnson in 2016, estimates the cost for upgrading the surrounding roads and rail infrastructure at £15bn to £20bn, compared to an earlier National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) estimate at less than £5bn.

“There’s only so much money and there is a question of priorities,” he said.

“Is it right that everyone gets on a short flight from Scotland to Heathrow to get on a much bigger flight? Is that a balanced situation?

“At least let’s have a debate about it as I feel like we’ve all been sucked into supporting it. It seems to me that you need to reassess given the changing circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Manchester is currently spending around £1bn on a new terminal with Laing O’Rourke carrying out the main design and construction work, which will increase capacity by 140% to serve 45M passengers annually.

In response, National Infrastructure Commission chair Sir John Armitt hit back, saying that if the plan to build third runway at Heathrow failed to go ahead it would be “worst possible thing that could happen in the next 10 years”.

“If we don’t go ahead with Heathrow, we will send the worst possible message post Brexit to the outside world,” he said. “Heathrow is financed by foreign companies. What is the outside financial world going to think if the UK pulls the plug on Heathrow? They’ll say if they can’t be bothered to go ahead with their infrastructure why on earth should we.”

Yesterday the High Court backed the Heathrow expansion plan, ruling against five legal challenges from Heathrow Hub, environmentalists, London mayor Sadiq Khan and local councils.

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