Infrastructure drives economic growth. The South West is peripheral and becoming ever-more cut off from the world’s economic centre of gravity.
We have an aging demographic profile and need economic growth to pay for increased social services, health care and pensions.
The pace of change in a digital world is rapidly increasing and people are travelling in ever-greater numbers as knowledge replaces commodities in terms of economic importance.
Cities are our engines of prosperity, even in mainly rural areas like the South West and to afford health and social security for our citizens in old age, we need growing prosperous cities, powered by good transport connections.
To provide opportunities for the young we need jobs in the digital and technology sectors and the fastest rate of jobs growth is in industries in which people are most mobile.
While digital technologies make routine communications faster, this also means that markets are more global and demand for travel increases.
The South West needs to adapt and be connected and this is the logic that drives FlyPlymouth’s case and which motivates our determination to restore Plymouth’s aviation links.
So where are we today?
We have a Victorian railway system with journey times the same as they were a century ago and that is crippled by a single point of failure at Dawlish. Our motorway ends at Exeter and there are no plans to upgrade the A38.
Yet there is a perfectly good, local airport sitting mothballed at Roborough.
The Government has to make tough investment choices with limited economic room to manoeuvre and recent developments suggest that, where investment in rail is planned, it is not earmarked for our region meaning that, surely, we should make better use of what we already have.
The South West needs a thriving network of airports each of which fulfils a unique role. Bristol Airport is in practice the South West’s regional airport with a wide range of carriers, routes and low cost airlines and it will always handle the bulk of local leisure passengers.
Local airports, at Newquay and Exeter, serve smaller, distinct markets and are more than 80 miles apart.
These local airports suffered challenges in the financial crisis. Cornwall Airport Newquay remains publicly subsidised; Exeter’s Airport was loss making, then sold.
Meanwhile Land’s End Airport struggled with grass runways until recently. Plymouth airport was closed four years ago by its property-developing leaseholder, which cited mounting losses as the reason. They have now predictably put forward a plan to redevelop the site. Plymouth City Council, which owns the land, has rightly protected the site for aviation use until 2031 under the Plymouth Plan and the Government is now examining the potential for the airport to be reopened.
With the forced exception of Plymouth, all the airports are now bouncing back: the economy and passenger traffic is growing again, confidence has risen, and fuel prices have fallen.
The Government has introduced the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support regional air services and FlyPlymouth is preparing to take advantage of this with its plan to re-open Plymouth Airport and resume passenger services in 2018. The time to act has never been better.
With plans to grow its population to more than 300,000 people by 2031, Plymouth should be an engine of regional economic growth but it needs good connectivity to meet the demands of a connected world. Plymouth’s priority need is transport over housing.
The re-opening of its airport will not just be good for the city but good for the South West. The 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America is an opportunity to boost tourism in 2020 and after the shocks of defence cutbacks in the 1990s, Plymouth is on the up.
However, it struggles to attract investment and keep successful start-up businesses because, to an outsider, it appears to be cut off. When a storms lashes the railway and accidents block the A38, that perception becomes grim reality.
The South West is a place of beauty and opportunity.
In a world where ideas and people travel further and faster than ever before, we need every bit of transport infrastructure working to keep every part of our region connected and our people prosperous, even if this requires local authorities to take tough decisions for the greater good.
Given this context, doesn’t it make overwhelming sense to maximise what we have got and to reopen an asset that will improve Plymouth’s connectivity at a stroke? FlyPlymouth is ready and willing to do just that.