Baroness Jenny Randerson writes: Heathrow expansion is bad economics, bad for the environment and bad for residents.

Pidgeon and Randerson no to Heathrow expansionYesterday’s announcement has confirmed what we have long suspected. That Theresa May would bow down to external pressures from big business and the foreign owners of Heathrow Airport to give expansion the green light – disregarding her own constituents and MPs in the process.

This is a green light that will see 800 homes and parts of the M25 demolished to make way for a development that even in its current form exceeds EU laws on emissions and is the cause of 28% of all those affected by aircraft noise in Europe. Despite their protestations, Chris Grayling’s statement yesterday gave no details on how they would achieve reduction targets.

But above all, the Government are touting a short-sighted vision of an undeliverable proposal. Four councils are already planning legal action, so on top of a Judicial Review and what will be an undeniably lengthy planning process, the proposed opening of a third runway in 2025 is incredibly unrealistic.

What should be the priority of the Prime Minister is the rebalancing of the economy, the promotion of regional airports like Birmingham and Manchester, putting investment where it is needed and wanted most, where construction could be shovel ready in a fraction of the time it will take Heathrow.

It is a myth that what is good for the overseas owners of Heathrow Airport, who make up 90% of its board, is good for the UK economy. In the last decade, they have paid just £24m in corporation tax to the UK but handed out £2.1bn in dividends to its shareholders over the previous four years.

And still they refuse to make any promises on how much they will contribute to the 3rd runway project, with as little as £1bn of the £20bn currently being touted as a likely figure, exposing a massive funding black hole, undoubtedly to be picked up by the taxpayer.

Even British Airways, who make up the clear majority of Heathrow’s business, have called the plans “outrageous”.

Liberal Democrats welcome the chance to fight a byelection in Richmond Park, no matter how many Conservatives we end up competing against. In contrast to them, we are a party that is united, united in its opposition to Heathrow expansion and their Londoncentric attitude to growth.

Heathrow expansion is bad economics, bad for the environment and bad for residents.

It is a predictable decision that is symptomatic of a Government that have run out of ideas. Who are pandering to businesses that have been rapidly losing confidence in the UK due to the fallout from the EU referendum, most notably the shrinking pound.

The Conservatives have forgotten the ‘No ifs, No buts’ pledge of their former leader and the promises that they made to communities in West London but we have not. We will continue to oppose this decision, all the way through the voting lobbies.

* Jenny Randerson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and is the party's front bench spokesperson on transport.

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  • Very shaky performance by Teresa May at PMQ’s today…………. but only one shout from the Tory Twickenham MP against Heathrow. May’s honeymoon definitely over.
    Lots of stumbles and rambling on.

    Labour silent about Heathrow and obviously split on the issue, though they are clearly making a pitch on mental health.

  • Nigel Jones 26th Oct '16 - 4:22pm

    Thanks Jenny for a good first response. The announcement, of course, follows from the enquiry which focussed only on Heathrow and Gatwick. That confirms the long-standing approach you describe as London centric, instead of looking at the whole nation. So it is not just a recent attitude. The imbalance of development between the South East and the rest of the country continues in spite of Theresa May’s promise to govern for everybody.
    It also confirms the way our establishment operates, with its apparent openness to all voices, except that certain voices have in reality greater access to government. This was part of many people’s concern a few years ago about the need for more transparency in lobbying. Business will always go for what seems to them to be the easiest way of making more money.
    I was involved in campaigning about the widening of the M6 and we found that big business was strongly for it. In the end we won the argument against it, but the business lobbyists could not be made to realise that they could change the way they do business and transport and still be profitable.
    It is now rather late to consider alternatives, but hopefully not too late to consider options, maybe even a new airport in the middle of the country linked to new rail and road services ?
    Business is important, but it must serve the needs of us all, not just the few and that is where we need strong government.

  • @ Nigel Jones “but hopefully not too late to consider options, maybe even a new airport in the middle of the country linked to new rail and road services ?”

    Excellent point, Nigel. There’s a huge amount of open space just south of Southport (apart from the odd golf course). Wonderful opportunity to extend HS2 north with links to Manchester and across the Pennines to Leeds. Great site with landing and take off out to sea. Worth contacting Sefton Lib Dem Councillors and asking the question ?

  • It’s always been myth that Heathrow expansion is “good for the UK economy”. Around a third of all Heathrow traffic is transit passengers who are neither starting or finishing their journey here. They are generating revenue for the owners of Heathrow and the airlines, but doing absolutely nothing for the UK as a whole. The expansion proposals are about consolidating Heathrow as a major hub to generate even more transit traffic.

    The UK economy would better benefit from expansion of a host of regional airports. I’m sick of driving ~2 hours to Heathrow to take a long haul flight when I have a choice of regional airports at half that distance.

  • Nigel Jones 26th Oct '16 - 9:20pm

    @Nick. Agreed. A few years ago I noticed a reduction in flights to Rome from airports not too far from where I live in North Staffordshire. Likewise to other places and airlines continue to advertise on their websites that they fly from Manchester or Birmingham or East Midlands to so many places. However, I have sometimes done a search for direct flights e.g. from Manchester to other continents and found such flights advertised; then when I look at the details I find that the flights involve changing at Heathrow.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Oct '16 - 8:03am

    Of course it remains to be seen quite how unpopular Heathrow expansion is in Richmond Park and which anti Heathrow candidate the voters will back!

  • The problem that the UK has is that it needs to expand airport capacity, but indecision by successive Governments has left us with no alternative to expanding one of the existing airports in the South East (I am old enough to remember Maplin Sands in the seventies – a predecessor to ‘Boris Island’).

    It is important that this airport is large enough to handle the international long haul flights, the European flights that feed the long haul routes, and the domestic feeder links. If there is not sufficient capacity, the domestic links will get squeezed out to other airports; the Regions will lose direct connections to international flights, and will be less attractive for investment by international businesses (look at Paris, with Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports).

    I have not seen any detailed desciption of the proposed expansion, but it sound like it will be to the west over the M25, rather than to the north. Until this detail is available, claims about the effect of the expansion are speculative.

    There is, in fact, one airport in the South East where the local community want expansion – Kent International Airport in North East Kent (previously, and more commonly, known as Manston Aerodrome). However, its location is far from ideal for passenger access and fragmentation of routes – and the other alternatives to Heathrow expansion have the same problems to a lesser degree.

    None of the political parties come out well from the long saga of airport expansion – and I am uncomfortable at Lib Dem parliamentarians using threats of legal action by public bodies as grounds for avoiding a difficult decision.

  • Baroness Brinton nailed the argument in a few words, “Capacity, if passenger capacity is the aim, why does 40% of freight come into Heathrow?”…

  • expats – because most freight is carried in the lower cargo decks of widebody passenger aircraft i.e. the freight is not displacing passengers, but is being carried as well as. Heathrow has the most long haul flights, therefore has the most widebody jet movements, and so gets the freight by default. You rarely (if ever?) see dedicated freighter aircraft at Heathrow – they use regional airports such as Stansted or East Midlands.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Oct '16 - 9:17am

    I took the argument about freight on trust. Is it really the case that on the rare occasion we can hear the arguments of a Liberal Democrat on Question Time, especially on the key subject of Heathrow expansion, a faulty argument might have been made?

    Shouldn’t this be cleared up if one wishes any other arguments against Heathrow expansion to have traction?

  • I, too, took the Baroness’s words at face value…Although, to be fair, there are ‘freight only’ companies pushing hard for this third runway…
    As so often, perhaps the ‘truth’ is neither black nor white…

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