The announcement of a direct £500m rail link between Cardiff and Heathrow yesterday was welcomed as one of the most important events for the Welsh economy in half a century.
The days of having to journey to Paddington before going on to Heathrow are due to end in 2021 and half an hour will be slashed off journey.
Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan said the Welsh capital will now be considered a potential for a new range of global businesses.
He said: “Now we can put a huge sign up in Heathrow: ‘Come to Wales!’.”
Mr Morgan, a veteran campaigner for the “spur” which will link the Great Western line and Heathrow, said: “It’s one of the most important announcements in the last 50 years.”
The journey today takes around 2hrs 50mins but the slash in journey times, according to Mr Morgan, will allow Wales to “really bang the drum for the M4 belt”.
The ex-Labour leader said it was the “definition of a missed opportunity” the link had not been put in place when Heathrow was built.
Conservative Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: “Fast and convenient links to our major airports are crucial and I have approved this £500m rail connection precisely because I believe Wales deserves the best possible access to Heathrow.
“By investing in a new railway spur off the Great Western Mainline we will create new ways of accessing Heathrow – including direct services from Wales and the West country, and a fast shuttle from Reading station – that will make it easier for people in Wales to leave their cars behind and mean others no longer having to travel eastbound into central London to catch a westbound connection back out to Heathrow.”
Professor Brian Morgan, a business expert based at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said Cardiff Airport would face a surge in competition and had to “pull its finger out”.
He said: “It needs to be looking at scheduled air traffic into Germany and north Italy and break way from this idea the only thing we can fly out of Cardiff is a plane full of people with buckets and spades…
“It doesn’t augur well for Cardiff [airport] if you have a fantastic airport just up the road.
“However, unless they build a third runway Heathrow is already at capacity… It will be a nightmare of an airport.”
Mike Wallace, a director at WCR Property, which developed Caerphilly Business Park, said: “We’re just starting to see some confidence return to the market, with a number of recent deals. News such as this can only help further.
“I hope this link does ultimately come to fruition as, logically, it will make South Wales much more attractive to inward investors. It will of course take some time to complete but the prospect alone will give business a short and medium-term lift and focus more investor attention on this part of the country.
“Anything that improves links to and from the south-east of England and overseas markets is going to be huge shot in the arm.”
First Great Western managing director Mark Hopwood said: “The commitment [of] £500m to fund western rail access to Heathrow is great news for local economies across the network. In speaking to the business communities across our region, they really value the economic benefits improved rail access to Heathrow could bring to cities like Slough, Reading, Swindon and Bristol, as well as South Wales and the south-west. I’m pleased we’ve been able to work with them and industry partners to move the debate forward to this stage.”
Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said: “The UK Government’s focus goes beyond single nations; hence our decision to build the Western Extension to Heathrow, which will for the first time connect South Wales to the UK’s main air hub and ensure faster journey times between Cardiff and Heathrow. This comes on top of electrification from London to Cardiff announced last year…
“It is vital we do all we can, working with the Welsh Government, to improve access and connectivity for organisations and businesses in Wales. Of course, with the business case for electrification for Swansea and the Valleys still under consideration, I continue to give strong support to these further proposals for improving Welsh infrastructure and to emphasise the critical role that rail modernisation could play in boosting the Welsh economy.”
Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards said: “A Heathrow hub is important as one of the Welsh gateways to the world, so easier travel from South Wales to the airport is good, not just for holiday-makers but for business as well, and should be supported… This announcement also suggests that Heathrow is a preferred option for the UK Government rather than a new airport in the Thames Estuary, something which would certainly be bad news for Wales.
“However, we must also ensure that rail connections within Wales are also significantly improved, including electrification of the whole of the Valley Lines and as far as Swansea, and that there is a role for Cardiff Airport in connecting Wales with the world.”
Heather Joyce, leader of Cardiff council, said: “This is fabulous news for the city and the city region. Gaining much quicker access for Heathrow will make us a more attractive investment opportunity for new businesses. It will also give people from the city region a quick, easy, sustainable way of getting to one of the biggest airports in the world.”
Robert Lloyd Griffiths, director of the Institute of Directors in Wales, said: “Anything that helps to improves Wales’ connectivity to the rest of the world must be applauded.
“Times remain tough for business but the Welsh private sector continues to innovate, shore up existing markets and explore new markets – and that includes new customers abroad…
“Encouraging rail companies to integrate ticketing with airlines was something we called for last year, and we’re pleased to see this proposal in the consultation. Setting a framework for aviation to grow while adhering to strict noise and emissions limits is also vital.
“But these are fundamentally short-term measures, which still don’t address the overriding need for more runways – that is the elephant in the room.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: “Everyone knows that the Labour Government left behind an appalling legacy. After 13 wasteful years of Labour in power, Wales was the only European nation, besides Albania, without a single mile of electrified railway.
“Already the UK Coalition has announced the electrification of the Great Western mainline from London to Cardiff. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been lobbying hard to ensure that the UK Government will go further and electrify our Valleys lines as well.”
Steve Hodgetts, Cardiff Airport’s planning and commercial director, said: “The UK Government is aware of Car-diff Airport’s desire, with its surplus capacity, to see the UK Government policy support regional airports which currently have capabilities to facilitate additional airlines, routes and passengers.”
Carl Sargeant, the Labour Welsh minister with responsibility for transport, said: “The Welsh Government welcomes faster journey times to Heathrow in principle and will work with the UK Government to maximise the benefits of the proposed rail link.”