Birmingham Airport today joins the debate over what shape the British air travel landscape will take in the future.
Spanish owned BAA, which recently lost its CIO, wants to build another runway at Heathrow, while Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson wants to build a fantasy airport project in the Thames Estuary because its long way from his London home, family in Oxfordshire and the rest of the UK. But in the real world that CIOs inhabit the concentration of airports into the south east of England is beginning to become a real concern.
In a report it releases today Birmingham Airport argues that it and other airports across the country have spare capacity that is not being used. BAA lobbies the government that London will lose its place in the world economy if it is not allowed to expand. The debate is whether the future of air travel is centred on massive hub airports that serve both long haul and short haul flights and therefore the entire island, or do we need a spread of airports providing a spread of different flight services.
At present you could argue that the UK has a major hub airport in Heathrow. The trouble is that airport is way down in the south of England. When it came to power this government said it would tackle the concentration of economic power in the South East. If this government backs another runway at Heathrow or plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary it will fail to provide any economic benefit to the rest of the nation. This is a scenario already taking place.
Just two weeks ago the CIO of a major global organisation based in Manchester described how difficult it was for him to travel to his operations in Singapore and across Europe. Often this busy CIO has to transfer via Holland or Germany, adding wasted time to his journeys.
Manchester does not have the connections to important cities like Singapore to allow it to prosper and become an alternative powerhouse to the South East. The knock-on effect of the Manchester CIO having torturous journeys is that few of his CIO peers would consider basing their operations from the city where Alan Turing honed his computer development ideas. Yet they should. Manchester, as well as Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow and Newcastle have a wealth of IT talent to offer CIOs. As well as talent they have significant cost benefits available. But it is understandable that CIOs want to be able to get to divisions, partners and providers from other countries with ease, so they will keep their IT teams in the costly South East.
So how can the government hope to spread the economy of the UK beyond the M25 if it will not work with organisations like Birmingham Airport and the Manchester Airport Group to ensure that their airports are encouraged and connected by reliable infrastructure such as rail.
The UK's economic position requires that all four corners of the island can compete. There is no-doubting that London, as most nations' capital cities are, is the economic powerhouse. But if we are to compete in technology, manufacturing, education, professional services and finance then we cannot focus all efforts on the South East, it is not sustainable and therefore un-economic.
Lastly, if over developing the South East in economically unsustainable, so too is it environmentally unsustainable. So far in the summer of 2012 we have seen a month's worth of rainfall overnight, floods, ceremony and business ruined when we need a boost out of recession. Scientists have shown that over the last month or so the Gulf Stream has moved from a south to north path to west blowing east. There are long term dangers if this weather pattern continues. Not tackling the travel infrastructure needs of the entire country will only lead to harder economic times.