UK set to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights under PM's plans

10 March 2021, 06:38 | Updated: 10 March 2021, 10:47

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Britain is set to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights under Boris Johnson's plans to improve connectivity within the UK.

The prime minister said he wants to "build back better" after the coronavirus pandemic in a way that brings "every corner of the UK closer together".

Mr Johnson plans to launch a consultation in the spring on reforming the aviation tax on passenger flights from UK airports.

The decision is part of a further effort to improve the transport connections between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ministers also plan to commit £20 million towards developing plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links - and exploring new requirements to offset emissions and decarbonise the aviation industry.

Some of the money will be spent on exploring the development of several projects, such as:

  • Improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England
  • Upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer
  • Faster rail links from England to Scotland
  • Rail improvements in south-east Wales.

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Air passenger duty on domestic flights could be cut under Boris Johnson's plans
Air passenger duty on domestic flights could be cut under Boris Johnson's plans. Picture: PA

However, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said that cutting domestic flight duty "flies in the face of the government's climate commitments".

General secretary Manuel Cortes urged ministers to invest in "truly green public transport", such as rail, which is the "most effective intercity connection taking people to the heart of our towns and cities".

It comes as an interim report by Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy, who is conducting a review of union connectivity, was published assessing ways transport can better connect all parts of Britain.

The report set out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would deliver the ambition - upgrading direct transport links, reducing delays and stimulating growth across the four nations.

In the report, Sir Peter said he has asked two experts to lead a "discrete piece of work" to assess the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

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Former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee and Gordon Masterton have been tasked with leading the technical review into such a link, with the PM in the past repeatedly suggesting the idea of a connecting bridge.

Mr Johnson said: "It's now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the UK closer together.

"We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.

"This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road - and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country."

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said Britain had suffered by not having a UK-wide transport strategy and had instead lost out by leaving it to the EU under its Trans-European Transport Network.

"The result is that the sinews of pan-UK transport have atrophied, with inadequate connections, needless bottlenecks and endless delays on the vital links between one part of the UK and another," Mr Johnson said.

He added: "It's currently quicker to get a train from Cardiff to Paris than from Cardiff to Edinburgh. With some bypasses, better track and signalling, as Sir Peter believes, we could run services from Glasgow to London in about three hours, and carry more freight too.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: "As we build back better from Covid, it is more important than ever that we level-up every corner of our great country.

"Quality transport infrastructure is key to achieving that, which is why we are committed to boosting connectivity and bringing communities across the UK even closer together."

Sir Peter said: "Devolution has been good for transport but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.

"A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK."