Airports need to be ‘beating heart’ of North’s economy

Jim O’Neill

The UK government must establish Northern airports as the “beating heart” of the Northern Powerhouse economy, business and civic leaders will say on Wednesday.

They will add that figures from the forthcoming NatWest Northern Powerhouse PMI (Purchase Managers Index) report show the Northern Powerhouse is outperforming London in 29 out of the previous 36 months, but more still needs to be done.

Jim O’Neill, vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Andrew Cowan, Manchester Airport CEO, Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Joanne Roney, CEO of Manchester City Council, will be speaking at an event at Manchester Airport.

They will argue that creating a “super-connected, productive and internationally competitive Northern Powerhouse” is not just important to the North itself, but sits at the heart of the desire to “create a balanced and outward facing UK.”

They will say that direct access to the world’s most important economies is critical to the creation of internationally-significant centres of excellence in fields like advanced manufacturing, technology, energy and life sciences in the North.

Manchester Airport’s long-haul catchment area covers around 22 million people and 60% of all UK businesses within a two-hour drive time – and it extends north through the Lake District into Scotland; east across Yorkshire and the North East; south to Birmingham and the Midlands; and west into Merseyside and Wales.

O’Neill said: “Access to the world’s most important markets is key to the North realising its true potential.

“Across the Northern Powerhouse, we are seeing significant private sector investment in airports, demonstrated nowhere better than here at Manchester Airport.

“That ambition should be matched by government support for maximising the potential of Northern airports through the Aviation Strategy process.

“We need major investment that will allow the North’s economic corridors to be better connected, attracting investment, creating jobs as well as attracting overseas organisations to discover a connected Northern Powerhouse through Manchester Airport, which with direct flights already to destinations like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ethiopia, is key.

“Due to transport barriers, it can take an hour and a half to get from Leeds to Newcastle for instance, which would be cut significantly under Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“The Purchase Managers Index shows that the ‘ManSheffLeedsPool’ corridor is thriving, but we need to do more to better connect the North East in particular which is not yet sharing in the benefits of agglomeration with the rest of the Northern Powerhouse.” 

The leaders said the key to maximising the potential of Manchester Airport, and in turn ensuring the benefits of international connectivity reach all parts of the North, is dramatically improved surface access, through transformative schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

NPR will radically reduce journey times between the UK’s third largest gateway and the North’s major cities, nearly trebling its public transport catchment area and helping attract up to 20 new long haul routes in the process.

Hinchcliffe said: “Linking up the North’s airports, together with our rail and road connectivity, is the missing piece of the Northern Powerhouse jigsaw.

“That is why Lord O’Neill and fellow parliamentarians wrote to the Chancellor last week, seeking meaningful commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail with a city centre station in Bradford to link to Manchester Airport, Hull and Sheffield as part of the £120bn package of infrastructure investments in strategic and local transport schemes needed to deliver a once-in-200-year opportunity to rebalance the economy and narrow the North-South divide.”

Manchester Airport CEO Andrew Cowan said: “Manchester Airport is a national asset, providing the north with direct connectivity to more than 210 destinations around the world.

“This list includes nine of the UK’s 10 biggest export markets, our largest source markets for inward investment and international centres of excellence in the sectors the North has particular strength in.

“We are clear that Manchester Airport has the potential to play an even greater role in driving growth across the North and rebalancing the UK in the process.

“That is why we are investing more than £1bn in transforming our facilities and laying the foundations for us to connect the north to even more international destinations.

“It is pleasing to see Manchester Airport’s national significance recognised in the Aviation 2050 Green Paper and we look forward to working with government, and our partners across the North, to identify and deliver the measures that will unlock our full potential for the benefit of the region, and the UK as a whole.

“That includes through schemes like  HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will combine with our own investment to make the North one of the world’s most connected regions.”