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Better connected airports and ports in the North of England could release massive potential benefits for trade and business growth, a report from an independent commission of business leaders has found.
Improving international links from the North could see 75 million air passengers travelling to and from the region each year by 2050, nearly double the current number. Better road and rail links to and from the region’s ports could also see more freight being shipped directly into and out of the region, boosting the economy and easing pressure on south coast ports.
The Independent International Connectivity Commission believes that offering new international destinations will encourage business travellers and potential investors to fly to and from the North and will make the region a more attractive destination for international tourists.
John Cridland CBE, Chair of Transport for the North and former Director-General of the CBI, who led the Commission said, “It’s clear that the North’s ports and airports are key economic assets for the region, with nearly 40 million passengers flying from the region each year and around a third of all UK freight using Northern ports. Yet we know that the lack of access to and from our ports and airports is holding them back, with congestion on our roads and railways making it difficult for people and goods to reach international gateways.
“These inadequate ground transport links, coupled with not enough direct services to key international destinations, mean that passengers from the North often have to travel from Southern gateways. They also act as a disincentive from both business and leisure travellers to visit the region.
“Unlike in the South, where ports and airports are heavily congested, the North’s international gateways have unused capacity. We believe international connectivity starts on the ground; by properly utilising available resources we can both boost the economy of the North and ease pressure on overloaded ports and airports elsewhere. We need to start promoting the North as a destination of choice, both to do business and to visit.”
The Independent International Connectivity Commission was brought together by Transport for the North’s independent Chair, John Cridland, and consisted of Chris Davis (Chief Operating Officer at PZ Cussons), Mark Parsons (Chief Customer Officer UK & Ireland, DHL Supply Chain), Andrew Sentence CBE (Senior Economic Adviser at Senior Economic Adviser PWC) and Sarah Stewart OBE (Chief Executive, NewcastleGateshead Initiative).
The Commission found that the North’s ports and airports have capacity to support transporting many more passengers and freight, but that poor ground connections are inhibiting growth. The report’s findings are echoed in the Government’s recent Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which stated that airports outside the South East do not have the connectivity to global markets that some of their competitors have, meaning these areas are missing out on trade-related economic activity and tourism.
The report makes a series of recommendations to boost global connections. In order to attract more passengers and freight, the Commission recommends a series of detailed interventions to improve road and rail links to airports and ports across the region. Improving ground access to the region’s airports and increasing the number of international flights to and from the North would increase capacity for both passengers and air freight. Improved links to and from the region’s ports could also see more ferry services and an increase in freight being shipped directly into the North.
The Commission also suggests developing a ‘Team North’ structure to market the North and to increase route options for the whole region, and reducing the burden of Air Passenger Duty to encourage airlines to offer more flights to and from the region.
Whilst the North currently accounts for around 25% of the UK’s population, its seven airports handle just 15% of all airport passengers in the UK suggesting a degree of underperformance in the connectivity provided. The Commission recommends that by 2050 90% of long-haul passengers should be able to fly directly from the North to their international destination, compared to just 50% at the moment.
The report is being published at an important time, with the Government currently working on an aviation strategy for the UK and Transport for the North currently working on its long-term Strategic Transport Plan for the region, both of which could be informed by the Commission’s findings.