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West Midlands mayor candidates clash over future of Birmingham Airport in heated public debate

Labour candidate Sion Simon accuses Tory rival Andy Street of taking orders from party bosses in London

Candidates hoping to become the first West Midlands mayor clashed over the future of Birmingham Airport, at a bad-tempered hustings event with less than two weeks until the May 4 election.

Labour candidate Sion Simon, who backs building a second runway, said the West Midlands was stuck with a “small provincial airport” and pledged to create a global airport fit for “the type of global exporting region that we ought to be.”

But Conservative candidate Andy Street condemned the plan as “utterly irrelevant”, and insisted the airport had capacity to expand without a second runway.

As the debate continued, Mr Simon accused his Conservative rival of "taking orders" from the Conservative leadership in London.

The final public debate for the West Midlands Mayor. Labour candidate Sion Simon, centre left, clashes with Conservative candidate Andy Street, centre right.

Mr Street insisted that rather than building a second runway, land by the airport should be used to allow Jaguar Land Rover to expand its nearby plant.

And he called for improvements to public transport - including a major expansion of the Midlands Metro, the region’s tram or light rail system.

He said: “We would extend the tram network across the conurbation.

“We currently have just 16 miles of tram network from Wolverhampton to the centre of Birmingham”

Other conurbations such as Greater Manchester already have tram networks across the whole region, he said

Election takes place on May 4

They were speaking as candidates for the post of West Midlands mayor lined up at a hustings event at Birmingham Resorts World to face questions from an audience of Birmingham Mail readers.

There’s less than two weeks to go until the mayoral election on May 4.

And an exclusive Birmingham Mail survey has found Labour candidate Sion Simon and Conservative candidate Andy Street were neck and neck.

The five candidates taking part in the hustings were James Burn (Green), Pete Durnell (UKIP), Beverley Nielsen (Lib Dem), Siôn Simon (Lab) and Andy Street (Con) are due to attend. A sixth candidate is Graham Stevenson (Communist).

The final public debate for the West Midlands Mayor at The Vox, Resort World Birmingham, NEC... Pictured Andy Street CBE (Conservative)

The debate heated up as Mr Street attacked Mr Simon’s plans to nationalise the M6 Toll, and insisted the West Midlands mayor could not do this without the support of central government.

Labour’s national leadership has not indicated it would support the nationalisation of the M6 toll.

But Mr Simon hit back: “I am my own man with my own mandate.

“I don’t need Jeremy Corbyn’s permission to make policy. The problem is, Andy, you weren’t elected, you were appointed by the Conservative high command in London, and you take your orders from them.”

Mr Street insisted he had been chosen as the mayor candidate by local Conservative Party activists.

UKIP candidate pledges to take cut-price salary

UKIP candidate Peter Durnell said the West Midlands had been at the “front of the queue” for funding cuts for too long.

He hit out at the cost of setting up the new combined authority and mayor - and said he would not accept a salary of more than £30,000 as mayor.

Beverley Nielsen, the Liberal Democrat candidate, highlighted her experience as a businesswoman, which included a period as West Midlands regional director for employers’ organisation the CBI.

And she talked about her plans to cut the cost of travel for young people, saying this would link the region’s “human gold mine” of young workers with employers who need their skills.

James Burn, the Green candidate, said the strong vote for Brexit in the West Midlands happened because voters did not feel they had control over their lives. But he said the new West Midlands combined authority, which the mayor will chair, was not transparent and was set to be dominated by white men, rather than reflecting the population of the region.

He said he wanted be mayor “so in ten years time we are not saying, one in three children here live in poverty.”

Mayor will control budget of millions

The final public debate for the West Midlands Mayor at The Vox, Resort World Birmingham, NEC...

The winner of the mayoral election will take control of a £36 million a year budget with power over housing, transport and economic growth as well as become an ambassador for the region - just as Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have done for London.

It’s been given added excitement by Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to hold an early general election, on June 8.

To find out more about the election, the issues and the policies visit our West Midlands Mayor page .

And come back to the Birmingham Mail when the results come rolling in on Friday, May 5.

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