Alastair Dalton: SNP MPs in transport driving seat?

Heathrow Airport is more popular with Scots than Gatwick. Picture: AP
Heathrow Airport is more popular with Scots than Gatwick. Picture: AP
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COULD Nationalist MPs soon be in the driving seat on UK rail and airport policy, asks Alastair Dalton

Transport rarely gets a look-in during elections – but this time it could become a significant issue should the SNP hold the balance of power.

The party’s influence may play a key role in shaping two of the UK’s biggest transport projects, a new London airport runway and HS2.

So far, the SNP has been largely silent on whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand.

Arguably, the decision is less important north of the Border than in England because Scottish passengers have alternative hubs to choose from like Amsterdam and Paris, and several in the Middle East which offer one-stop travel as far as New Zealand.

KLM already claims to carry more of Scotland’s long-haul passengers through Schiphol than any other airport.

Gatwick has more routes than Heathrow, but the west London airport is more popular with Scottish transfer passengers because of the seamless link to British Airways global network at terminal five.

A UK government-appointed commission on airport expansion is expected to publish its recommendations in July.

Gatwick’s supporters are hoping it will win, partly because they see a new runway at Heathrow as being politically unacceptable – and undeliverable.

But what happens if Labour, which backed Heathrow expansion when last in government, comes to power with SNP support, and is faced with the commission favouring that option?

Could it be that the SNP, seeing Scots’ interests best served by enhancing the UK’s only hub airport and less bothered by the impact on residents, would back that? Or would it gamble on expanding Gatwick in the hope of creating a rival hub for Scotland?

However, the SNP’s role in shaping HS2 could be even more important.

The party wants the planned London-Manchester/Leeds high-speed rail line extended to Scotland, with construction starting at both ends.

This would effectively force the hand of the UK government, which has been seen to be dragging its heels on bringing high-speed rail to Scotland.

A study on this has been delayed, and HS2 chiefs believe upgrading existing lines is more realistic than a new one.

The coalition has refused to commit to pushing north. But an SNP manifesto commitment to build south is also significant, since the Scottish Government has conveniently been able to dodge such a pledge, arguing it should wait on the UK government position after the study is published.

But don’t buy your tickets just yet – there’s also the small matter of who pays, and Scottish ministers are already due to spend billions on road and rail upgrades over the next decade. TRANSPORT rarely gets a look-in during elections – but this time it could become a significant issue should the SNP hold the balance of power.

The party’s influence may play a key role in shaping two of the UK’s biggest transport projects, a new London airport runway and HS2.

So far, the SNP has been largely silent on whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand.

Arguably, the decision is less important north of the Border than in England because Scottish passengers have alternative hubs to choose from like Amsterdam and Paris, and several in the Middle East which offer one-stop travel as far as New Zealand.

KLM already claims to carry more of Scotland’s long-haul passengers through Schiphol than any other airport.

Gatwick has more routes than Heathrow, but the west London airport is more popular with Scottish transfer passengers because of the seamless link to British Airways global network at terminal five.

A UK government-appointed commission on airport expansion is expected to publish its recommendations in July.

Gatwick’s supporters are hoping it will win, partly because they see a new runway at Heathrow as being politically unacceptable – and undeliverable.

But what happens if Labour, which backed Heathrow expansion when last in government, comes to power with SNP support, and is faced with the commission favouring that option?

Could it be that the SNP, seeing Scots’ interests best served by enhancing the UK’s only hub airport and less bothered by the impact on residents, would back that? Or would it gamble on expanding Gatwick in the hope of creating a rival hub for Scotland?

However, the SNP’s role in shaping HS2 could be even more important.

The party wants the planned London-Manchester/Leeds high-speed rail line extended to Scotland, with construction starting at both ends.

This would effectively force the hand of the UK government, which has been seen to be dragging its heels on bringing high-speed rail to Scotland.

A study on this has been delayed, and HS2 chiefs believe upgrading existing lines is more realistic than a new one.

The coalition has refused to commit to pushing north. But an SNP manifesto commitment to build south is also significant, since the Scottish Government has conveniently been able to dodge such a pledge, arguing it should wait on the UK government position after the study is published.

But don’t buy your tickets just yet – there’s also the small matter of who pays, and Scottish ministers are already due to spend billions on road and rail upgrades over the next decade.