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Cairns: Air services vital for Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"Airports and air services are important to the social and economic prosperity of Wales, but it is also easy to overstate the cases that have been highlighted.

There is no doubt that any business seeking to locate in the United Kingdom, or in any other part of the world, will look for a skilled workforce in the first instance, but international links will be number three or four in its pecking order of priorities.

There is a desperate need to improve the links between Wales and the rest of the world, and Europe in particular.

In this respect I want to recognise the efforts made by Cardiff international airport.

It was a great shame to have lost British Airways from Cardiff airport but, on the other hand, it has now become one of the fastest growing airports in the United Kingdom, having secured the presence of bmibaby, the low-cost budget airline.

However, I recognise the negative signal sent to potential business investors that the UK's national airline does not fly from Cardiff international airport, or from any airport in Wales.

Therefore, we would be interested to hear about the action taken by the Assembly Minister in this respect, in terms of lobbying British Airways.

To his credit he said that he would take up the matter with British Airways when it initially made its announcement, but we have not heard anything about the outcome of those discussions.

The report is interesting and was an exercise that needed to be undertaken. We do not agree with Plaid Cymru's reasons for objecting to the document.

This report needed to be written in order to identify not only the need and the demand, but the cost of such a proposal.

When we consider the costs and the potential benefits, looking at the report it is difficult to overstate the costs and to establish who would be the true beneficiaries of such a public subsidy.

Option 1(a) in the summary of the report highlights the around Wales links, including Cardiff, Withybush, Valley and Hawarden.

The subsidy per passenger, excluding capital expenditure in the first 12 months, is £100 per journey. That is the subsidy to establish that link.

If we factor in the capital expenditure required over the four-year period, the subsidy could be as much as £115 per journey, depending on the accuracy of the report's figures; it is a survey, and I recognise that.

That is for the relatively small number of people who will use it. It is worth asking who will use the service.

Of course Assembly Members will use it, and I recognise the difficulties that north Wales Assembly Members have, particularly those highlighted by Denise Idris Jones.

I question, however, whether a £100-per-journey subsidy for Assembly Members and others to travel north and south is really worth it.

Is that £100 subsidy—and it could well be more—a suitable commitment to the social exclusion policies to which the Assembly Government claims it aspires?

Should not the issue be to grow demand in Wales from the airports that we already have?

In this respect, a more useful debate today would have been on a faster access road to Cardiff international airport and better infrastructure and improvements elsewhere.

A faster access road would place Cardiff international airport in a much stronger marketing position with regard to companies such as British Airways, which I have already highlighted, and to other airlines that could connect Cardiff to other hubs around the world.

That would give us the possibility of much wider journey choices outside Europe; you could start in Cardiff and connect to a major hub elsewhere.

Cardiff international airport has a difficult job, however, in attracting new carriers because of the difficulties in commuting to and from the city centre.

It is also important to have a debate on the rail link and the feasibility of establishing a train station at Cardiff international airport, which is an issue that the Minister certainly has not raised.

Yes, the Vale of Glamorgan railway line is to be welcomed, and the Minister has already mentioned that in his introduction, but it is important to take the next step by improving the fast road link from the M4 to Cardiff international airport.

Under the Minister's trunk road programme some of the high priority work will not be ready to start until 2008.

Cardiff international airport's road link is not in the trunk road programme.

Granted, that is because it was not a trunk road at the time the programme was set out.

However, at the Economic Development and Transport Committee meeting some weeks ago, I asked the Minister when he planned to include the fast link to Cardiff international airport, which is currently being trunked, in the road building programme, and he said, 'Not in the foreseeable future'.

The logical conclusion from the Minister's previous statement is that the road would not be ready, at the earliest, until 2011 - that is far too late, and the Minister needs to revisit the road building programme and consider some of the money that he has wasted on it."

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