Will some of the UK's major cities getting their very own Boris be a good thing for the industry – or just more hot air?
OF ALL THE RESULTS on May 3 (London Mayoral, London Assembly, Local Authorities) the votes that will get the least attention are the referendums on whether a number of our significant towns and cities want their own elected mayor. Liverpool has already decided it
will have one, deeming a referendum unnecessary, but we will also find out which of Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield want their own, too. The temptation is to dismiss these eventual posts (to be elected in November) as an additional tier of local windbags… but we should consider what it is these new mayors will be able to do.
While initial powers might be limited, already we see candidates for the big cities (particularly Birmingham) talking about how they expect more powers
and additional budget to gradually devolve as the mayors establish themselves. However, if we have learnt one thing from Boris’s stint as mayor, it is that power is often less important than personality – indeed, his efforts with the Thames Estuary
The temptation is to dismiss these eventual posts as an additional tier of windbags - but then again...
airport concept have turned it into an idea that central government is committed to investigating. The ability of a locally focused politician to use profile to champion pet projects and create a compelling narrative is absolutely key in terms of giving vital oxygen to a project. Existing MPs do look to make their mark; look at any parliamentary
debate on aviation and you’ll see MPs from Birmingham (or Leeds or Liverpool) getting up to make a case for their own airport – but the sheer number of MPs and their relatively small electorate means they struggle to get traction.
Elected mayors might well start to rebalance the situation. Take, for instance, Manchester. It already possesses a forward-looking airport team with ambitious plans for physical expansion and has been home to thought-provoking campaigns around air passenger duty being lower in the regions – all of which would further make Manchester attractive as an aviation centre. How much more compelling
38 City Hall, home of the Greater London Authority
could this be if, instead of the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester and representative MPs, the media and government were faced by a single high-profile voice that trumpeted a vision for the wider area? There would be no shortage of takers – for a politician, the prospect of championing an infrastructure project is attractive. It helps form an easily communicated vision for their city that their constituents can “get”. It is an issue on which they can go into battle against central government planning authorities and budget holders. It is a campaign for which they can round up the local and regional business community to support. The benefits are multiple. It is conceivable that the current situation of a powerful London mayor dominating the aviation expansion debate – and, in effect, drowning-out regional calls for capacity increases – is replaced by London’s mayor being balanced out by savvy, high-profile mayors for Birmingham, Manchester et al, banging the drum for their own infrastructure plans. Furthermore, the way the aviation policy timetable is unfolding, they should be in place to join the fray ahead of the coalition government’s aviation strategy in 2013. ■