LibLink: Caroline Pidgeon: It’s time to follow the money on the debate over Heathrow

So, David Cameron is putting off the evil day when he has to make a decision about Heathrow. Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon has reiterated her opposition to a third runway:

Londoners will be angry at delay when the obvious conclusion is that expanding London airports will be too polluting and too disruptive. If the evidence doesn’t support a third runway then the answer must be “No!”
“Sadiq Khan is as flexible on airports as a pair of flip-flops: he used to support Heathrow, now its Gatwick. Who knows how long before he flops back to supporting Heathrow?

Zac Goldsmith is isolated from the Tories on this issue and powerless to intervene. They have saved his blushes today but the Tory plane is landing on a third runway at Heathrow for sure.

Only the Liberal Democrats are firmly opposed to airport expansion. There is underused runway capacity around London that we should exploit by improving train connectivity and speed to central London.

Last week, Caroline wrote in an article for the Huffington Post:

We need a better run Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow. We need to start making much better use of the surprisingly large spare runway capacity at airports in the South East, especially Stansted. And we need to also recognise that there are plenty of business people living in the Midlands and the North of England who resent being forced to always first fly to Heathrow before they can first start an international flight. The views of passengers very rarely get a mention in the aviation debate.

It really is possible to ensure that the UK retains good international connections while at the same avoiding the loss of at least 750 homes to build a third runway. We can remain competitive with other European airports without having to ensure that even more people are disturbed by noise from Heathrow. In fact it is intolerable that even now 28% of all people disturbed by aircraft noise across European are under the Heathrow flights paths.

And most importantly we do not have to accept illegal levels of air pollution around Heathrow simply to satisfy the financial desires of the owners of Heathrow.

She invited readers to “follow the money”:

I have nothing at all against companies being owned by overseas investors. However I do take objection to overseas owners of Heathrow continually lecturing the British public over what is best for British people and for the overall UK economy.

The facts are simple: Heathrow is owned by Heathrow Airports Holdings. They in turn are reported as owned by FGP Topco Limited, a consortium owned and led by the infrastructure specialist Ferrovial S.A. (25.00%), Qatar Holding LLC (20.00%), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (13.29%), the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (11.88%), Alinda Capital Partners (11.18%), China Investment Corporation (10.00%) and Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) (8.65%).

Heathrow Airports Holdings Ltd quite understandably want to create a dominant position in the UK, ideally at the expense of other airports. More landing rights means more profits for them. The closer to a monopoly on international flights they have, the happier they are.

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  • there is going to be a third runway the overseas investors want it.

  • “If the evidence doesn’t support a third runway then the answer must be “No”

    But if the evidence does support airport expansion in the South East then the answer must still be no?

    If you are going to be evidence based you can appear to evidence but you can’t if you will disregad evidence that doesn’t agree with you. The LibDems have taken a stance in oposition to any expansion, then clinging to only to part of the evidence to back up your position makes you look dishonest. This is not a clever line of argument, just say you are standing on a simple principle and don’t try and manipulate evidence it won’t be well recieved.

  • Robert Wootton 11th Dec '15 - 11:17am

    If there is spare capacity at Stanstead, there is no need for a new runway at Heathrow. Allow Stanstead more landing spots, increase competition amongst the three London airports to bring down prices. Also improve rail connectivity in terms of speed and frequency from the airports to various business centres around the UK not just London.

    To just build extra capacity at Heathrow would merely increase and exacerbate the bottle neck and gridlock of passengers travelling to central London.

    However, a complete study is required of the distribution of airports around the UK to identify which new and existing airports need to be capable of accepting international flights. Exeter facilitates European flights, I’m not sure about transatlantic flights. What about re-opening Plymouth airport for transatlantic destinations. However, there is still a requirement for an integrated transport infrastructure with fast rail and road links and domestic flights to the major cities of the UK.

  • David Faggiani 11th Dec '15 - 11:17am

    I know there are environmental considerations, but, especially as no options outside the London orbit are being seriously considered, am I alone in saying I just don’t care anymore? This apathy is perhaps inevitable as political issues drag on, and on, and on…..

  • Have those who oppose a third runway at Heathrow ever used that airport or do they either never travel by air or have privileged access to air travel, such as politicians and rich people ? They have obviously never had to sit in a plane after a long distance flight while it circles around London for up to an hour burning huge quantities of fuel while it waits for a runway to become available for landing. How does this benefit the environment or the passengers who have to travel ?

    I think it is time to just get on with it. If Heathrow is such a dreadful place to live as stated by opponents of expansion, why are developers advertising new houses yet to be built ?

  • The very strong point is on regional airports. Absurd how few flights to major destinations leave even from large cities in the uk with international airports. Too much emphasis in the debate about localism centres on councils. We as a country could learn from , for example , the usa or Italy, and not have every centre of importance in one place .Transport and culture for a start.

  • @nvelope2003 – “Have those who oppose a third runway at Heathrow ever used that airport”

    Yes, I do, several times a year. After driving for 2+ hours to get there, because the airports that are much nearer to me don’t fly to any long haul destinations (apart from a few holiday destinations).

    Expanding Heathrow has got absolutely nothing to do with benefiting the UK economy. It’s about benefiting BA and BAA. They want extra capacity and slots so that they can offer more opportunities for people flying from elsewhere in Europe to connect onto long haul flights. They also want keep all of the long haul “business” type destinations concentrated at Heathrow to keep their monopoly on that business.

    If the aim is to benefit British business generally, then the answer is to expand the range of flights available from regional airports like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh etc.

    Unfortunately, the debate isn’t about benefiting the country as a whole. The debate keeps getting artificially limited into a will we/won’t we expand Heathrow, and gets conducted by London-based politicians and businesses, in London-based media.

  • Caroline is absolutely right about following the money – this issue isn’t about what the UK actually needs but what a dominate business run by oversea’s interests wants so as to increase it’s monopoly…

    And yes nvelope2003 I have used the airport along with several others and perhaps more importantly, I have regularly used the roads around Heathrow and so have direct knowledge of the traffic jams it creates. Over the years, I have grown to resent Heathrow and positively try to avoid using it. This isn’t because the airport itself is necessarily crowded, it is because getting to it is such an undertaking, particularly if you’re on a “red eye” flight and having to factorin ~2 hours for check-in and security checks on top of the 2+ hours travelling time…

  • Caroline’s mention of passengers is right. In the last 20 yrs I have seen reduction and even elimination of direct flights from Manchester to places I want to go to. Some destinations from Manchester are advertised on websites, but then when you get as far as choosing flight times and look at the details you discover you have to change at Heathrow. I notice that things have improved from Birmingham, but there is still huge spare capacity there. It is a real nuisance having to go to Heathrow so often.
    One also wonders at the way evidence is gathered, bearing in mind the well-known point that answers to survey questions often depend on the wording and nature of the survey. If people from the South East could travel just as quickly to Stansted or Birmingham as to Heathrow, they would give different answers to the questions.
    Furthermore, what about government directing business developments away from the overcrowded South East instead of giving in to certain business opinions which are always conservatively inclined. Business should think differently about how they can operate and serve a wider section of our people.

  • nvelope2003 15th Dec '15 - 8:57pm

    It is all very well demanding more direct long haul flights from regional airports but there might not be sufficient demand to make such flights viable. I have been on flights to the Middle and Far East from London which were lightly loaded even with the benefit of connecting flights. It would be harmful to the environment to subsidise additional journeys. Hubs are an essential part of all transport operations, whether road, rail or air, to improve efficiency . It would be lovely if we could always go to anywhere in the world without changing but that is unlikely for a long time. To compare the UK to the US is unrealistic as it is much bigger both in area and population.

    The need for planes to circle round for lengthy periods waiting for a runway to become available has not been addressed though it is a very real problem and damaging to the environment as well as the travellers. I have used the tube and bus to get to Heathrow but not found traffic congestion particularly troublesome. I would have thought those who have to travel from the West of England, Wales and the Midlands would find Heathrow more convenient than the other London Airports.

  • If our only priority were really to reduce pollution levels at Heathrow, we would either
    * increase capacity there – but not permit any additional flights; or
    * reduce the number of flights permitted.
    So much of the Heathrow pollution and lousy service is a direct result of it running at maximum capacity, with virtually no slack, resulting in planes flying around and around waiting for a landing slot (and that’s on a good day).
    Reducing the numbers of flights would transform the service and it would eliminate stacking, giving a disproportionate reduction in regional pollution – but it’s hard to see that happening.
    Increasing the capacity but not the number of flights would have a similar but lesser effect.
    So theoretically the answer is to commit to expanding Heathrow capacity, for an immediate reduction in pollution, but only to allow additional flights when local and London-wide pollution levels are within legal limits.
    That’s the theory.
    Almost certainly the reality is that Heathrow Airports Holdings aren’t interested in reducing pollution levels: they want to increase flight numbers and profits, the pressure would be full-on from day 1 to use that new capacity – and to build up to maximum use as quickly as possible, with all the familiar problems of flight delays and pollution caused by stacking.
    And of course travellers from around the UK would still be having to get to Heathrow in the first place, with all the associated extra hassle, wasted time and pollution.
    If we really need more flights, despite the associated global warming implications, we need to improve rail transport links to other airports with spare capacity, in the South-East and beyond. At the moment, Stansted has decent rail links with London Liverpool Street and Cambridge, and a 3-hour service to Birmingham. I don’t wish to be unkind, but that’s just pathetic.

  • The problem is that airlines wish to use Heathrow instead of the other airports because of its greater connectvity. Until recently there was an excellent service from Gatwick to Beijing but it has now transferred to Heathrow and at a less convenient time. Boris Johnson is probably correct in saying that the hub should be somewhere else but to make it a viable proposition all the other airports would have to close. The site proposed in the Thames Estuary would not be very convenient for those having to travel from the West, Wales or the Midlands unless they could use a connecting flight. Although I would be happy to use trains because I like them, many would not find them very convenient and would go by car or taxi. If the problems caused by pollution became overwhelming then compulsion would be required but that would not appeal to Liberal Democrats. Trains are not particularly green as they would require huge amounts of very polluting work to re/build them and maintain them for the very high speed running needed to reduce the time from Stansted or wherever, to Birmingham.

  • I do not think Heathrow Airport Holdings are alone in preferring to improve their profits instead of reducing pollution. That seems to apply to every business whether in the private or public sector. To minimize pollution laws have to be enacted and enforced on everyone. Then it is up to businesses big or small to operate efficiently and profitably and stop relying on taxpayer funded public subsidy. However I am not sure that they should be required to pay for all infrastructure improvements, unless they are specifically required by their business, as most roads etc benefit everybody.

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