Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Times Leader is right on airport expansion

Below is the Times leader for 3rd September 2014. I have put the date in as I am so shocked I want to remember the day. The Times agrees with Boris and millions of others that Heathrow expansion would be disastrous. In addition ruling out the Thames estuary airport shows a complete poverty of ambition, lack of vision and signals a weak future.

In my view anyone who believes the expansion of Heathrow is the answer is an idiot. Full stop.

The article is laid out in full below but the link to it and subsequent comments is here.

"This Island Race"

The rejection of an airport in the Thames Estuary is a depressing mistake

There is a hidden convention in Whitehall that a difficult decision is made more palatable if it is recommended not by the politician who has to make it but by an independent body. When the prime minister appointed Sir Howard Davies to run the Airports Commission it seemed a ruse to legitimise a decision that had already been taken.

The suspicion was that David Cameron had come to regret his pledge that he would not permit a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The Davies Commission was a way of unravelling that promise by providing an independent rationale for a change of policy should the Conservative party win the 2015 election. That suspicion has been confirmed by Sir Howard’s regrettable decision to throw out the prospect of building a four-runway hub airport in the Thames Estuary, a plan that has been enthusiastically supported by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Mr Cameron’s promise on Heathrow was so clear that his credibility would be at risk if he were to renege on it. As he said, the extra disruption to an already crammed west London that would result from expanding Heathrow, as well as the noise and pollution,would be too great. Heathrow is already the noisiest airport in Europe. This position, however, pinned him in a corner from which the Davies Commission was designed to free him.

That Britain needs extra airport capacity is not in doubt. Indeed, the best case for a new hub airport on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary is that an expanded Heathrow would be full no sooner had it been built. An airport with three runways will not even match Paris or Frankfurt, which have four, or Amsterdam, which has six. As soon as the third runway was in operation, which would not be for 15 years, the pressure would begin for another. It is not a viable future for Britain that it should continue without a direct flight to, for example, Osaka in Japan. The hub airport for flights between China and Europe is already Frankfurt. The evidence that more business is done in countries into which flights come directly is clear.

The problems of trying to locate such an airport in a suburb of west London are obvious. The cost of the Thames Estuary, at £26 billion by 2030, is likely to be much less than Davies suggests. The Confederation for British Industry has pointed out regularly that Gatwick cannot be the answer as it does not offer the capacity. However, now that Sir Howard has said that “Boris island” will not be added to the shortlist for the final phase of deliberations, Heathrow is emerging as the only option.

This whole issue needs politicians to lift their sights and their ambition, as Mr Johnson has done. The benefits of a bolder approach are, according to the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, the creation of more than 200,000 jobs. By 2050 the airport could be contributing £92 million to the British economy. The longer-term benefit is that Britain would be at the hub of a wheel of trading connections. The Davies decision shows that a 50-year history of avoiding tough decisions is not yet going to come to an end.

The argument about building a new airport began in the 1960s. In the half century that has followed other nations have argued about, concluded on and built their airports. Britain has suffered from ambition blight, compounded by a planning blight. This perfunctory look at the Thames Estuary and an ill-considered dismissal is a stitch-up to hide a decision already made. Britain is the loser.