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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Up In The Air And Off The Rails

By Chris Fletcher, Policy & Communications Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Anyone that has ever read Bleak House will be familiar with Jarndyce Vs Jarndyce, the seemingly never ending court case that drones its way through the novel with no obvious end in sight, but which ultimately has implications for the main characters.

Anyone that has read a newspaper over the last few weeks or listened to any news, will no doubt have a similar feeling with the resurrection yet again of the Heathrow expansion issue that masks the more urgent question of solving the country's need for a cohesive aviation strategy.

Two Transport Secretaries ago, I was asked to attend a meeting at DfT with other representatives of business organisations to discuss the Government's sustainable aviation review looking at all things aviation related from capacity, to Air Passenger Duty, expansion and environmental issues.

Sounds familiar?

It should do as two years later these same issues are still being discussed with no end in sight, with yet another review committee being set up to look at the problem. Meanwhile, the default setting of Heathrow has kicked in again to dominate the debate about what should be a national issue with national solutions. In the UK we have regional airports with capacity to spare and it is becoming increasingly obvious, some would say inevitable, that a new airport needs building in the South East away from Heathrow. The answer to our problem is not in building a single extra runway, it wasn't when the debate started and as time goes on it becomes even less likely to be the only solution that works.

In the meantime as this story was coming back around we had the hokey cokey that was, and still is, the refranchising exercise for the West Coast mainline. Whether First would be better than Virgin is an argument for another time. As a regular user of the line I, like many other business users, just want a standard of service that continues to build on the work done by Virgin and do not want to see a repeat of the franchise shambles seen in other parts of the country.

So with the future of the UKs main rail route still up in the air and the Government's aviation strategy going off the rails, is it any wonder that people are getting increasingly frustrated with all this?

The PM stated recently he wanted to cut through the dither. Very laudable. Unfortunately it seems that much of this is self-inflicted with simple decisions proving to be the hardest ones to take, whilst we slip further behind our competitors on the global stage.

Maybe Bleak House is an apt description for this, after all my great expectations of a quick resolution to this disappeared some time ago.

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