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Melding: North-south air links are vital for Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"I am in the strange position of wanting to offer the Minister some defence. He has formed some reasonable proposals, which will now be investigated further.

I do not share the feelings of some opposition Assembly Members that this is an environmental outrage or that it breaks Thatcherite economics to such an extent that it cannot be stomached.

There are grounds for investment in a service that can then be marketed and used for a range of objectives that go beyond mere economic objectives.

If we estimate that around 27,000 people will use it in the first year, that is something to build on.

There is an issue regarding north to south services.

We all know that north Walians feel distant from Cardiff.

Unless you live in Barry, as I do, you can barely go further south than Cardiff. As it is the capital city, that represents access problems. Schoolchildren may use such a service to visit the Assembly.

We must concentrate on the wider factors and possible national integration.

If we market Wales as a country that is well served by modern transport links, including air travel, that would be of great benefit when we try to attract inward investment.

American businessmen will expect to fly to Cardiff, which is a problem that we need to work on.

If they then need to visit factory sites elsewhere, they will expect to be able to fly there. That is how they view the world.

We are not talking about jumbo jets or club-class travel; they are used to travelling on commuter flights around the United States and increasingly in parts of Europe where geography has been a problem. That is increasingly the norm.

When they read the brochures and hear the hard sell in the mini embassies, or whatever they are called, that they should come to Wales because of our economic outputs or at a top class, new technology conference in Arizona, for example, Wales must be presented at its best.

There will be information in brochures regarding how we are developing or have developed intra-air networks. That seems to be quite useful.

All forms of transport are subsidised. Even car users do not pay for what their journeys actually cost in terms of the investment to build roads and the infrastructure that is required.

We should not be terrified of public subsidies for railways or air services.

However, there is a valid criticism that we must have clear criteria; it is pointless to do it just for the sake of it. There must be an objective reason.

We must promote Cardiff international airport and develop routes—I hope that the route development fund is successful.

I know that the Minister has been encouraging the increase in scheduled flights. There has been some good progress in that regard, which is difficult to achieve.

We should encourage the Minister when has some success—I will not say 'occasional success' because that would be damning him with faint praise.

Authorities at the airport have told me that they have appreciated some recent developments.

We should build on that because if we had more scheduled flights, Cardiff would be promoted as a business destination.

If people can then travel to the rest of Wales, we would be responding to the needs of other parts of Wales that may feel that they are not always as well served in terms of access to Cardiff as they would like to be.

This initiative is worth backing. We look forward to seeing the fine detail.

I do not think that the Minister is proposing to sign us up for life; we are talking about three or four years to test the feasibility.

I agree with my colleague, Alun Cairns, that transport links to Cardiff are important, by rail and by road.

Businessmen who expect to fly to Cardiff will also expect a modern route into the capital city.

Cardiff is our shop window on the world, and it is important that we have modern links."

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