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Manchester council chief slams ‘Boris-centred’ aviation debate

The debate over UK airport capacity needs to cover the whole of England, rather than being “preoccupied largely by the concerns of the mayor of London”, the chief executive of Manchester City Council has told CN.

Sir Howard Bernstein said Manchester would be contributing to the Sir Howard Davies commission set up to examine aviation capacity, which is due to report its final conclusions in 2015 and publish an interim report this year.

But he said it was too early to predict the ramifications of Manchester Airport Group’s £1.5 billion purchase of London’s Stansted airport this week.

“What is very important is that we don’t just have a debate about the South-east; we need to have a national airports plan,” he said.

“We will contribute [to the Davies review] but I’m not sure whether it is designed to put off the issue for the next couple of years.”

He said it should be broader than a discussion “pre-occupied largely by the concerns of what the mayor of London is about”.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has lobbied against Heathrow expansion and is in favour of a ‘Boris Island’ proposal for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

In December, Mr Johnson backed a feasibility study on expanding Stansted into a ‘superhub’ airport.

Manchester stands to benefit from phase two of the High Speed 2 rail link, an extension to the current network that is set to run from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to announce a preferred route next week.

Sir Howard said the economic case for having a national high-speed rail line was “overwhelming” and that it was important the scheme penetrated cities such as Manchester.

He added that the £33bn HS2 scheme will be “a challenge in terms of funding, but it’s a challenge we have to meet”.

Sir Howard is due to be one of several speakers at today’s Manchester launch of Creating Britain’s Future, the industry campaign led by the UK Contractors Group and supported by CN, which began in London last year.

According to the UKCG, in the first three-quarters of last year construction accounted for £8bn-worth of investment in the North-west, a region that employs more than 200,000 people, representing more than 6 per cent of the local workforce.

The scale of the challenge facing the industryis huge, with 2012 planning approvals down 28 per cent on 2011.

Construction output in the North-west is also expected to fall by an annual average of 0.9 per cent between 2012 and 2016.

Asked about the challenges facing construction firms in Manchester, Sir Howard admitted he had heard of “lots of developers and construction companies shedding surplus labour”, which he said was a contributing factor to an increase in construction costs locally.

However, he said he had seen “a lot more evidence since the turn of the year of [growing] confidence among funding investors and local businesses”.

He cited digital technology, creative industries, bioscience and health as four major growth areas for Manchester.

Just last week permission was granted for a £650m, 65-acre mixed-use commercial development dubbed ‘Airport City’, located north of Manchester airport.

At the Creating Britain’s Future launch, Kier chief executive Paul Sheffield is expected to hail the work being done by Manchester City Council to support infrastructure investment.

But he will say the industry needs to continue to work with local political leaders and central politicians to ensure they understand the value infrastructure brings to the region and the UK, and deliver “value for money for taxpayers through the efficient use of resources.”

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