A local council’s decision to delay final approval for an increase in passenger numbers at London Stansted Airport could stall the growth of the visitor economy in the East of England, impact thousands of jobs and threaten its chances of becoming an official Government ‘Tourism Zone’.
Visit East of England, the region’s voice for the visitor economy, says that Uttlesford District Council’s political procrastination on the issue sends an unsatisfactory message to the thousands of local people who rely on Stansted to deliver millions of tourists each year into its District, the wider East of England and London.
‘Having given permission last Autumn for the start of a £600m transformation programme, it is extremely disappointing that ten months on Uttlesford District Council is no further forward on this issue and prefers instead to waste tax-payers money on political sport,’ said Visit East of England executive director Pete Waters.
In June 2019 the Government published a long-awaited Tourism Sector Deal and with it the opportunity for regions to bid to become one of five new Tourism Zones across England that will receive support to drive visitor numbers.
Tourism Zones will be chosen through a bidding process run by the British Tourist Authority and will focus on increasing productivity in the visitor economy, extending the tourism season, investing in skills, and addressing ‘local market failures’.
‘The East of England is in a good position to submit a strong proposal to become a Tourism Zone but this move by Uttlesford District Council sends completely the wrong message about the region’s commitment to growing the sector. It could also jeopardise future opportunities to bid for funding, at a time when the East of England needs to be doing everything it can to grow our economy,’ said Mr Waters.
‘The airport’s unrivalled access to Europe and potential new destinations in the US, Asia and the Middle East will further open up the region to inbound leisure passengers and help promote tourist attractions across Essex, including the market town of Saffron Walden and Audley End House, and tourist hotspots across the wider region such as IWM Duxford, Newmarket Racecourse, the Norfolk Broads and Suffolk Coast, and historic cities of Cambridge and Norwich.
‘If we are to continue to benefit from inbound tourism in our region, and the tens of thousands of jobs and millions of pounds that come with it, then it is vital that local Government supports sustainable and responsible plans put forward by their local airports. If they don’t, airlines will choose to go elsewhere – be that in this country or other markets across Europe and around the world,’ added Mr Waters.
With over 12 million inbound passengers every year, Stansted Airport plays a vital role in supporting the UK tourism industry, not only as London’s third airport but also as the International Gateway to the East of England.
According to the Government’s East of England Forecasting Model and UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ Working Futures survey the region’s visitor economy is expected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024, double the growth across the overall economy.
Over 246,000 people in the region are currently dependent on a thriving travel and tourism sector for their livelihoods. Around a third of travel and tourism jobs are held by young people (aged 16-24), compared to just 12% of all jobs in the wider economy, and the visitor economy is a sector with potential to grow employment and value quickly.