Arm-twisting attempt to avoid Birmingham Airport inquiry
Birmingham International Airport's new chief executive Paul Kehoe lost little time in starting a campaign to persuade the Government not to order a public inquiry into a proposed ÃÂ£130 million runway extension.
Mr Kehoe had no sooner occupied his desk at Elmdon than he was briefing journalists on the possibility of a six-year delay to the project if a planning application to Solihull Council is called in by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
While Birmingham plods on with a runway so short that long-haul flights have to stop to re-fuel en-route to the other side of the world, Manchester and Gatwick can cash in by offering direct flights to India, China and the west coast of America.
In other words, every day that the runway extension isn't built will damage the West Midlands economy.
It is difficult to tell whether Mr Kehoe is being entirely serious when he suggests there might not have to be a public inquiry.
As he admits, there is a lot of emotion attached to the expansion of the airport.
Plans for a second runway have been dropped, but that doesn't guarantee the extension an easy ride.
While building a longer runway could not be described as being out of kilter with Government policy, it most certainly is a controversial issue in the villages around Birmingham Airport. And the criteria used by the DCLG stipulates that an inquiry should be held if a planning application is the subject of significant local opposition.
It would be most unusual, and highly controversial, if the Government Office for the West Midlands were to "nod through" the extension plan - assuming, of course, that Solihull Council is minded to give approval for the 400-metre extension across the A45.
It is unlikely that a planned shake-up of the planning system, which includes a fast-track process for deciding major applications, will be in place for another couple of years. It is difficult, therefore, to envisage an inquiry into the extension being heard and decided upon by the middle of 2011.
The good news, from Mr Kehoe's point of view, is that the airport's private sector shareholders seemingly have the cash in hand to make a start on the runway extension as soon as next year. No credit crunch problems here, then.
Transport Ministers and MPs can expect to have their arms gently twisted by BIA and the West Midlands councils. Pressure not to order an inquiry, which is only just beginning to be applied, will be intense.