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6 December, 2006 - 14:48 By Staff Reporter

Airport key to inward investment for region

Stansted’s burgeoning air links from the UK to key centres around the globe are being used by inward investment chiefs in a new initiative designed to persuade more overseas businesses to establish bases in the East of England.

East of England International chief executive, James Gray, revealed that EEI was looking to launch a programme for 2007 called ‘Springboard to Europe’ in which the growth of Stansted could prove a magnet for a new wave of relocating businesses.

“It’s a powerful offering,” said Gray. “Not only will companies relocating here gain important access to a large chunk of the UK’s fastest-growing region but also coming here means low-cost access via Stansted to major trade centres throughout Europe, the Middle East and North America.

“Stansted is also looking to bring India and China into the equation which will add further strength to our hand. If you are an American, European, Far Eastern or Middle Eastern business and you want to create a European operation in a region that gives you easy access to all the world’s most important trading nations then Stansted is integral to that strategy.”

Gray said growth in traffic through the Essex hub had been “absolutely phenomenal” – and not just for low-cost holidaymakers chasing a place in the sun.

“The growth figures are equally impressive for business traffic,” he added.

“The region’s business community appreciates an airport on their doorstep that provides low cost access to so many countries where they have trade partners.

“Classically, this is taking the East of England down the same road as some of the fastest growing technology areas of the United States.

“South West Airlines started out shipping people back and forth on leisure flights and very rapidly, in no more than three-four years, its services were snapped up by business travellers, especially from small, fast growth businesses for whom finances are extremely important. They need to access these key markets, sometimes frequently in any given year, and don’t want to spend a fortune to get there.”

Gray said the commitment to growth at Stansted by airlines such as easyJet and Air Berlin recognised the attraction of their low cost, broad reaching services to business flyers.

Taking all of this into consideration, Gray says the continued growth of Stansted is essential to the region’s – and the UK’s – economic success.

“If you look at any high growth region in Europe or the US – even before you start taking India or China into the reckoning – there is at least one highly effective international airport that is easy to get to and has super reach to key markets that business people want to trade with.

“If you don’t have that in this region, it’s not inconceivable that some companies may have to cease trading. Alternatively, business traffic will clog up the roads by having to get round to Gatwick or Heathrow.

“And if Stansted isn’t expanded the impact on the economy of having other regions of Europe step in and overtake us in air transport will be far more damaging than any cost of growing Stansted.

“Businesses look at all of this in their relocation or expansion decisions and they expect to have access to an airport with Stansted’s ambition.

“We need to get away from the knee jerk approach we seem to have here that more infrastructure is automatically bad.

“The issue needs to be thought through: If you don’t expand at Stansted that’s not the end of the discussion; either you will have an awful lot more people sat on the M11 and M25 to get to Heathrow or businesses will desert the East of England and relocate closer to Heathrow.

“I don’t see how that will benefit the local economy or our employment prospects going forward. This is why Stansted is central to our new ‘Springboard to Europe’ programme. And you cannot achieve the kind of growth endemic in Stansted’s strategy unless you support it with improved infrastructure.

“We have 2,000-plus overseas-owned businesses in the East of England and they have a huge impact on the supply chain and on employment.

“They are here for a number of reasons and the current reach of Stansted allied to its potential growth in services is one of the major ones.”

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