‘Heathrow expansion no guarantee for our airports’

sky-high: A plane lands at Heathrow Airport ahead of a vote in parliament which will decide whether or not it should have a third runway
sky-high: A plane lands at Heathrow Airport ahead of a vote in parliament which will decide whether or not it should have a third runway

Voting for Heathrow expansion without guarantees for Scottish airports would have been a dereliction of duty, Drew Hendry said last night.

The Inverness MP has come under fire for his party’s abstention from the controversial third runway vote on Monday night, which ended up
being passed by a substantial majority of MPs.

The decision has been queried, particularly when the SNP Scottish Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Heathrow supporting the move in 2016 and nearly every Scottish airport and chamber of commerce has backed expansion.

Mr Hendry, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on regional airports, has previously spoken in support of the plans but said he feared the UK Government would not deliver on its promises.

“The benefits could be substantial and I support that case,” he said. “But those benefits are only real if they are able to be delivered. The deal offered didn’t give any real protections to regional airports – nothing at all for Dundee and it puts Inverness at risk. When you have got the BA boss saying slot charges are likely to double, my best bet is we will suffer more in the north.

“It would be a dereliction of duty if I allowed this situation to go ahead when the slot prices could double and airlines shift to the more lucrative routes.”

Mr Hendry said he had been “stung before” by ministerial U-turns over pledges to allow people to cancel mobile phone contracts if they had poor coverage back in 2015 and also pointed to the recent Brexit ministerial “backsliding” by Scottish Secretary David Mundell over clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Mr Hendry said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s record in government meant MPs could not trust him to deliver. He said: “Chris Grayling failed to give any guarantees, which he had previously said he could deliver. He has failed to deliver time and time again, including on Northern Rail, and you only have to look at what this Tory government did on clause 11.”

A Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) spokesman said he welcomed the vote in favour of expansion but would still be pressing for guarantees on slots.

“We believe the third runway will play a key part in securing long-term aviation connectivity for the UK regions, including the HIAL network of airports. Our focus now is to work with the government and to continue to press for guaranteed slots at Heathrow and ensure that airport expansion benefits the entire country.”

Meanwhile, Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman came under fire from fellow city MP Ross Thomson over her decision to abstain from the Heathrow vote.

Aberdeen International Airport and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce both backed a third runway at the London airport, which was voted through on Monday night.

SNP economy spokeswoman Mrs Blackman was challenged over her abstention by Aberdeen South Conservative Mr Thomson, who said she had put “narrow party interest before the good of the country”.

“It is quite incredible that the SNP abstained on this crucial vote,” Mr Thomson said.

“Kirsty Blackman should have stood up for her constituents in Aberdeen North and supported this development, or explained why she could not support it. People in the north-east will wonder why on earth a local MP cannot even vote on an issue of such importance to the region.

“Once again, it is the SNP putting their narrow party interest before the good of the country.”

Mrs Blackman responded: “One word: Brexit” and declined to comment further.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, one of 12 Lib Dem MPs who all voted against, welcomed the SNP’s abstention.

“The Heathrow vote is obviously disappointing,” he said. “Increased aircraft usage will be extremely damaging for our environment, and expansion of Heathrow may crush regional Scottish airports like Aberdeen and Glasgow.

“As more flights go out of Heathrow, these regional airports may find themselves becoming little more than feeder airports to the behemoth of Heathrow, which will be bad for Scottish passengers.

“It is good to see the SNP taking a principled stand to protect Scotland’s airports by abstaining.”