Connectivity gap threatens region’s international trade prospects say business leaders

SENIOR business figures in Birmingham and Solihull have supported claims that the West Midlands’ economy is suffering due to poor international transport links.

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, together with Birmingham and Chamber of Commerce, have endorsed comments by Birmingham Airport that the UK in general – and the West Midlands in particular – is suffering from an acute regional ‘connectivity gap’.

As a result of the poor connectivity, the region’s economic activity is not being maximised, said the organisations.

The airport’s comments were made in response to the Airports Commission’s discussion paper, ‘Aviation Connectivity and the Economy’, which asked for feedback on the relationship between the connectivity and the economy. The Airports Commission is examining, on behalf of Government, the need for additional airport capacity and how it can be met in the short, medium and long-term.

Paul Kehoe, chief executive of Birmingham Airport, said:  “Evidence shows that the current alignment of UK connectivity and productive sectors is not maximising economic activity.

“To make best use of airports with spare capacity the UK’s great cities need great airports. A network of major international gateways is needed to empower businesses across the whole of the UK to attract inward investment and provide new markets for their goods and services.

“Our catchment area has the potential to become the UK’s major international gateway for manufacturing goods, and research shows that the lack of connectivity is impeding the development of a vibrant economy with the potential to unlock sustainable long-term economic growth for the region, and the UK.

“Only by having their own long-haul international gateways can each regional economy support business activity and prosperity.”

Andrew Cleaves, GBSLEP board director for transportation, added: “Birmingham is a great location in the UK and we should take every opportunity to utilise this.  As it stands the airport has spare capacity, so there is a huge potential to relieve the capacity constraints that exist within the South East and fulfil the current demand for travel in the central region.

“Growth at Birmingham Airport will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in an area of significant unemployment, and provide the connectivity with the rest of the world that our industrial base so desperately needs”.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, said diversifying the nation’s options for air connectivity would enable regional economies to forge stronger links with emerging markets and help to rebalance the national economy.

“Regionally, the Midlands has a very strong presence of companies involved in international trade, and the rate of exports from the Midlands to non-EU countries is growing rapidly,” he said.

“London airports currently have far fewer direct connections to China than they do to the USA, and the strong infrastructure of the Midlands means the region is well placed to take on these links.

“With additional air connectivity, Birmingham Airport will be a major enabler of investment to the region.”

Steve Brittan, managing director of BSA Machine Tools and current chamber president, added: “Currently we have to fly via European hubs to connect with our customers that are located globally in Asia and the Americas.

“These difficulties can put off overseas customers visiting our plant in Birmingham so it would be a tremendous benefit, and put Birmingham on the international map, if Birmingham Airport could cater for long-haul point to point services.”

The airport’s response was also supported by The Black Country LEP, plus Chambers of Commerce representing the Black Country, North Staffordshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Worcestershire and Coventry and Warwickshire.