Cry Baby Richard Branson takes his £5bn investment out of the UK
Sir Richard Branson: Virgin expansion finished in UK
Sir Richard Branson has revealed that Virgin Atlantic would invest up to £5bn in the UK if the Government reversed its “incredibly damaging” block on any expansion at Heathrow.
By Kamal Ahmed, Sunday Telegraph Business Editor
9:30PM GMT 10 Mar 2012
In one of his most outspoken attacks on Coalition policy, Sir Richard said that Virgin Atlantic was now focusing on expansion in America and Australia rather than the UK.
Thousands of jobs which could have been created in the UK have gone elsewhere, he said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph.
Although Virgin Atlantic officials said that the airline had launched some new routes from Heathrow and invested in its presence at Terminal 3, Sir Richard said that the company had “effectively ground to a halt” in Britain.
His intervention will be damaging for the Government which is due to announce a review of aviation policy this month. Last week, The Sunday Telegraph published a letter from business and union leaders demanding the debate on Heathrow expansion and the third runway is reopened.
Sir Richard said that having a review without including Heathrow, as the Government intends, “makes no sense whatsoever”. BAA, the owner of Heathrow, is considering legal action against the review because of its limitation.
“I think the Heathrow decision was purely political and incredibly damaging,” Sir Richard, the president of Virgin Atlantic said. “If there is one thing that is holding the country back it was the decision by all three parties to do the cowardly thing and that was to say they wouldn’t allow a third runway.
“Heathrow came to a grinding halt five years ago. Virgin hasn’t been able to offer many new routes out of Heathrow in the last five years. There would be a whole lot of destinations that we would be flying to and new destinations that we don’t fly to today.
“We can’t wait for another aviation review. Virgin would be willing to invest £5bn in expansion at Heathrow with new routes and take on thousands of new people [if the Government reversed its position]. Sometimes brave politicians need to change their mind and we need brave politicians on both sides of the political spectrum to put the country before party.”
Sir Richard said he was sceptical about an airport in the Thames Estuary although he has pledged to look at the option. He warned it could be-come a “white elephant” and take up to 20 years to build.
“The idea of a Thames Estuary airport, we’re looking at it but for it to make sense you would have to close Heathrow down and that will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Heathrow area,” he said.
“That would be even more politically disastrous for anyone who made that decision.”
Sir Richard said that in five to 10 years planes would burn clean fuel and have quieter engines. That meant there was now less reason to object: “The aviation industry could quite rapidly go from being a polluting industry to being one of the cleanest industries.”
In a separate development, a group of business leaders write in today’s Sunday Telegraph that the Government should also look at using more capacity at the UK’s regional airports.
“Airports outside of the South East can provide additional capacity,” the letter signed by chambers of commerce heads says.
“Birmingham Airport could double its passenger numbers today. Manchester Airport could handle 50m passengers a year by 2050. Airports such as Liverpool, Manston, Doncaster and Blackpool could collectively accommodate tens of millions of extra passengers a year.”