Alongside the vital measures being taken to help our economy survive the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important not to overlook the decisions necessary to enhance our longer-term economic prospects, both national and local.
The automotive industry plays an important role in the economy of Coventry and Warwickshire, and that industry is changing. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will end by 2030, and Jaguar Land Rover, perhaps the most significant local company in this highly significant sector, has announced its intention to make the brand electric-only 5 years before that.
These changes are good for our environment, and we need to make sure they are good for our economy too. Electric vehicles require batteries, and manufacturing those batteries close to the plants where vehicles are assembled has considerable advantages. That is why it makes sense to locate a so-called Gigafactory to manufacture batteries in our area, bringing with it 4000 jobs in the factory itself and supporting thousands more in its supply chain, and why it is good news that the preferred site for such a facility in the West Midlands is Coventry Airport.
Despite its name, the airport site is, in fact, in Warwickshire and within my constituency. The bid to build a Gigafactory there has the support of local government leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire, both Labour and Conservative, of local business organisations and of the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. It has my support, too, though not without condition.
I doubt that the days of passenger airport operations and jet airliners will be much missed by the villages that surround the airport site or the damaged roof tiles and ruined barbecues they brought with them, but those villages are entitled to protection from the impact of factory operations that may replace them. Extra traffic has to be properly managed, and the appropriate planning processes must be followed. Crucially, the airport site is green belt land, significant in separating urban areas. The green belt should only be developed in exceptional circumstances, and while I can see the case for this Gigafactory being exceptional, with all its likely advantages to the wider area both now and in the future, I cannot see the same case for other or future possible uses of the land. Of course, there are many other questions to be resolved before a Gigafactory can be built, but it is a future asset worth pursuing.