It is by no means an exaggeration to suggest that the decision taken by Solihull Borough Council tonight on an application to extend Birmingham International Airport’s main runway will be of huge significance for the West Midlands.
Not since the original approval was given for the National Exhibition Centre – a decision that also fell to Solihull Council – has a matter of such importance come before elected representatives.
The economic benefits that will flow from a longer runway are well rehearsed, as of course is the damage that would be inflicted on the regional economy if the airport’s application was to be refused. Put simply, the 400 additional metres requested by BIA will allow aircraft for the first time to fly non-stop between Birmingham and China, India and the west coast of America.
The advantages of this are obvious enough. Birmingham will be able to match Manchester as the default airport outside of London by offering long-haul flights to tourists and businesses. The West Midlands will, overnight, become a more favourable destination for inward investors and global corporate companies seeking to establish operations in Britain, no longer held back by the need to stop and re-fuel en-route to and from the emerging economies of the Far East.
From a financial point of view, taking into account likely benefits for the regional economy, the council’s decision must be a no-brainer, particularly at a time when businesses are desperately in need of a shot in the arm.
But in common with most applications for the expansion of an airport, the runway extension has raised strong passion from environmental groups. A range of objections are being put forward including the proposition that a longer runway will make global warming worse, will cause more pollution and noise for families living nearby and that travel by air has a limited future and will last only until fuel supplies run out.
These are serious objections from well-meaning groups and individuals, but it cannot be denied that the anti-runway campaign at BIA has never remotely approached the sense of public outrage surrounding debate around airport growth schemes in other parts of the country. Protesters were able to muster petition signed by 1,000 people urging Solihull to say no – a clear indication that the runway issue has hardly made it above the Elmdon radar.
Solihull Council must listen to environmental concerns tonight, but members of the Planning Committee are duty bound to take the bigger picture into account.
A decision to approve the runway extension will send a clear message in the most trying of times that Birmingham and the West Midlands means business. Refusal is unthinkable.