Hopes of winning Government backing for ambitious plans to expand Birmingham Airport have been dashed after the proposal was rejected by a Government-backed inquiry.

A long-awaited report on the future of Britain’s airports concluded: “There was not a strong case for expansion at Birmingham Airport”.

Instead, the Airports Commission backed expansion of airports in the south east and shortlisted three options including a new runway at Gatwick, a new runway at Heathrow or extending an existing runway at Heathrow.

Birmingham Airport put a brave face on the rejection, pointing out that the Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, former head of the Financial Services Authority, said that a future inquiry might look at the case for expanding Birmingham again.

But local business and political leaders were less welcoming. Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “I speak on behalf of the Midlands when I say we are hugely disappointed with the Airports Commission’s failure to address the need for a balanced UK economy.”

Birmingham Airport had drawn up plans for a new runway in Meriden and Colheshill, Warwickshire, east of the M42 and south of the M6.

But the Davies Commission said that the runway was unlikely to be needed because Birmingham Airport would not be operating at capacity until the mid-40s. People in the Midlands are less likely to fly than those in the south, and while the planned high speed rail line might make it easier for Londoners to use Birmingham Airport, it would also make it easier for people in the Midlands to use Manchester Airport.

Furthermore, expanding Birmingham Airport would lead to increased noise for a relatively high number of people, the Commission said.

It concluded: "On balance, the Commission’s view was that there was not a strong case for expansion at Birmingham Airport, and that it should not be shortlisted as a credible option for further development and appraisal."

However, the report added that it “may merit reconsideration as part of any future assessment of options for a second new runway, particularly as the long term impacts of HS2 on patterns  of travel and aviation demand become clearer.”

The Commission also said that planned improvements to transport links to Birmingham Airport should go ahead.

Paul Kehoe, CEO of Birmingham Airport, said: “Our hard work has paid off. Birmingham Airport has today been recognised as an integral piece of the long-term aviation puzzle, supporting the growth of aviation links across the UK, which is a positive step forward for the Midlands economy. 

“And whatever the long-term solution, the Commission has also recognised that Birmingham Airport can grow immediately and we will work with the Government on the policy recommendations set out in this report in order to deliver this.”

Birmingham Chamber Chief executive Jerry Blackett said: “While the decision not to short-list Birmingham for expansion is disappointing, there are a number of important positivies.

“We regret that the report does not examine the critically-important role of aviation in supporting the rebalancing on the UK away from the existing and unsustainable reliance on London and the south-east.

“Cities like Greater Birmingham are poised to grow dramatically and we need direct flights to the growth economies. In focusing on aviation supply in London and the south-east, the report looks like a sticking plaster job only for the UK economy as a whole.

“However, it’s now important that we work on the positive elements of the report and one of the bonuses for Birmingham is that it identifies the importance of surface connections to the future for airports.”

A plane takes off from Birmingham Airport
A plane takes off from Birmingham Airport
 

Sir Albert Bore said: “We welcome the fact that Birmingham Airport’s long-term vision was acknowledged in the Interim Report and that the airport has a role to play in the short-term with surface access improvements based around the Birmingham Gateway Project (New Street).

“However, I speak on behalf of the Midlands when I say we are hugely disappointed with the Airports Commission’s failure to address the need for a balanced UK economy.

“We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape our aviation sector so that it served to help rebalance the national economy and deliver for businesses outside of the South East. The commission has failed to fulfil its remit to take a “UK wide perspective” and in so doing has let down business people across the country.

“Any future decision on aviation policy needs to actually consider implications for the national economy.”

Neil Rami, Chief Executive of Marketing Birmingham, which operates inward investment programme Business Birmingham, said: “The London-centric approach recommended by the Davies Commission is at odds with the Government’s commitment to attracting investment into all parts of the UK.”

And MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) said: “The power struggle over where the runway in London should go has completely overshadowed the case for regional infrastructure investment in the Midlands and North of England.”