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One more step towards airport expansion in South East England: It matters to NI

The May Government won Monday night’s vote (25 June) to proceed towards expansion of Heathrow. Admittedly, a few more steps have to be negotiated before the first shovel hits the ground. This has been a policy which has been in a holding path for decades- in 1968 the Roskill Commission was created with a remit to recommend a site for a new four runway airport for London. In 1971 Roskill recommended such an airport at Maplin Sands but it never happened.

Heathrow expansion should be beneficial to the Northern Ireland economy. Anything which lifts the capacity constraint which has been hanging over airport capacity in the South East makes it more likely we can get greater air route connectivity, especially in terms of good access to an international hub. That could imply gains for tourism, trade, FDI and productivity. Significantly, in 2017 the London government did name Belfast International as one of the regional airports which were likely to gain new routes and slots as result of expanded capacity at Heathrow.

The government’s own consultation paper in 2017 suggested that a combination of gains to passengers and some of the wider economic benefits could boost the UK economy by about £60bn annually by 2030. Given the NI economy’s overall share of UK GDP of about 2.5% that might imply a gain to Northern Ireland of up to £1.5bn in 2030 is plausible: an increase in the 2018 level of NI GDP of about 3%.