Opinion: You can allow airport expansion and protect the environment

Airport expansion equals controversy.

It sparks inevitable tensions between the demand for larger airports to fuel our economic growth, and concerns about the impact on the environment.

For those living closest to our major airports, especially Heathrow, those fears can be particularly acute as they endure current noise levels and view the prospect of increased traffic with dread.

And for Liberal Democrats it can often feel that our drive to create a stronger economy is being placed in direct opposition to our desire to protect our environment for future generations.

But I believe the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

It’s because of our cherished commitment to a creating a greener future that our pre-manifesto – includes a commitment to no net increase in runways across the UK.

But if we are to be equally true to our visions for a stronger economy and fairer society we must also look for opportunities for growth across the whole of the UK.

For those of us – like me – who live in areas where our air links will be vital to that economic expansion the current proposal seems short sighted, particularly when you take into account the fact that our concerns about pollution and noise from today’s aeroplanes may be less relevant to the next generation of cleaner and quieter aircraft in twenty, thirty and forty years’ time.

We don’t yet know how technology will improve air travel: carbon emissions may fall faster or slower than currently predicted, and our policy response must be flexible to accommodate the evidence as it emerges.

To rule out new routes now for airlines offering a chance to explore new markets and encourage investment may risk vital missed opportunities and prejudice decades of growth.

Take my own airport for example in Aberdeen. The energy capital of Europe.

It provides a link between our energy industry base onshore and its production facilities offshore, as well as providing connections with others centres in the northern isles and the foreign markets with which trade and the export of our technology is vital to future growth.

But Aberdeen is also a growing hub for alternative energy.

It is no exaggeration to say that limiting the prospects expansion of Aberdeen airport risks strangling growth in our energy industry – traditional and alternative.

And when the high speed rail links which will boost growth in the south become a reality regional airports in those areas which don’t directly benefit can look to exploit the slots at Heathrow which will inevitably become available to ensure they too can see some economic dividend.

None of this means I do not hold our target of Zero Carbon Britain to be sacred.

I think our airports strategy must be evidence based and designed to limit carbon and noise emissions from aviation.

But within these limits we must seek to target economic opportunities across the UK, as well as helping rebalance the economy.

There is no doubt we need an economy where growth is better shared across the country, not purely around the capital.

And in the future we should be able to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, as well as reap the benefits of growth in investment and jobs thanks to sustainable airport expansion.

For these reasons I will be supporting an amendment to our pre-manifesto at conference in October.

I want to stress the enemy is the carbon and the noise, not the aeroplane or the travel.

I do not want to commit to a policy that, with the best of intentions, could sacrifice tomorrow’s economic growth on the altar of today’s carbon and noise emissions.

Do we really want to commit to a policy which, with the best of intentions, has the potential to sacrifice tomorrow’s economic growth for the same of carbon targets that wouldn’t actually be jeopardised.

* Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Allen 3rd Oct '14 - 3:34pm

    “The enemy is the carbon and the noise, not the aeroplane or the travel”

    And presumably the enemy is the pig sh*t, not the pork?

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '14 - 3:40pm

    I will remember the name Christine Jardine. Good arguments on LDV are surprisingly rare and even rarer in politics in general. It is necessary for the party to listen to harsh feedback in order to get it to change. The other parties are even worse.

    The only other thing I would add is that Carbon isn’t the only problematic gas – methane and other green house gases are bad too (I mention methane because I have had experience of working with it).

    I recommend a vote for the amendment.

  • I have been to Aberdeen Airport. It is not that much bigger than my local bus station. You could probably expand it several times over without even the immediate neighbour noticing.

    Heathrow is a 30 minute bus ride from my house — as long as you take the express bus and there is no traffic chaos..
    Unfortunately, because Heathrow is the cuckoo in the West London nest, there is often traffic chaos caused by Heathrow. We cannot cope with the existing Heathrow. It is already too big.

    Leave aside the noise and health impact of the existing Heathrow, ŵe cannot cope within at its present size.
    And yet because of the millions of pounds which the lobbyists have spent and are spending (imcluding daly adverts in LDV) the political elite in the Westminster Bubble is conspiring to allow Heathrow expansion just as soon as next May’s voting is out of the way.

    This is nothing to do with creating jobs. It is all to do with corporate profits.

  • “You can allow airport expansion and protect the environment” – Well it all depends on what you mean by “airport expansion”, something Christine isn’t particularly clear about. Just as she isn’t clear about what exactly is the amendment she will be supporting.

    Firstly, the wording of the LibDem commitment to ” no net increase in runways across the UK”, does not exclude or prevent the expansion of existing airports to use their existing runways more efficiently. Also it probably isn’t a net increase in runways if Aberdeen say upgraded its existing runway and facilities to take more and larger aircraft and long haul… Additionally, it encourages the development of alternative transport systems such as the various heavy lift airships currently being trialled.

    Secondly, by limiting growth at a few airports, we are actually creating an economic incentive to develop elsewhere. With good transport links there is very little real difference between flying to say London City/Docklands or Luton and getting a train into Westminster as there is in flying to Heathrow or Gatwick. In fact a major problem at all our major ‘business’ airports is 7am ie. the red eye flights: we all want to day trip to Europe and so we all want to leave early and return at close of business, so as to not loose working days. Having several airports and hence runways permits the laying on of more flights at times of high demand.

    The only sustainable economic growth is growth that is not predicated on the availability of fossil fuels in volume and at low prices.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 4th Oct '14 - 9:46am

    A major decision must be made soon – to fully equip airports and their local communities so they are fit for the coming decades. Single party directives from either major party will never work for the balance of business and environment which the country needs. Each party must draw up its position now, as we are doing, and put its position to the electorate in the 2015 GE. And why not form a multi-party commission as the next step for UK’s airport development instead of the drip drip of ideas.

    I’m unclear what the London region should develop as its airport mix, especially as Heathrow has a hinterland which has grown in part due to the airport itself. What will happen if Heathrow doesn’t grow? Will the local workers move to another potential developing airport? Should Boris’s dream airport receive attention or not?

    This will be the wrong time to lose many of our MPs who could have influence. Does UK have a way forward on airport mix and what will our likely reduced voice mean to the country’s future balance – of business and environment?

  • I don’t know why Boris Island isn’t being considered in the review. For me, it’s a no-brainer. Most travel would be eastwards (over the North Sea) reducing noise pollution. It would enable another Thames Crossing further east of Dartford, alleviating some of the congestion (and therefore pollution) there. Connection to Southend and Stansted airports would be easy. The high-speed trains from St Pancras to north Kent already use the line between Gravesend and Higham, where Hoo Junction enables cargo trains to link to the Isle of Grain, so train links would be simple. There are acres and acres of land at Heathrow which would then be freed up for development for a new Garden City concentrating on affordable housing for key workers. Britain would be expanding its landmass (making population a little less dense). And then there are the jobs. Yet it’s off the table. I despair, sometimes….

  • Barry Fleet 7th Oct '14 - 10:51am

    Re Paul King’s & jedibeeftrix’s comments re Boris island : a generation ago, the proposed 3rd London airport on Foulness Island/Maplin Sands was abandoned because of the inevitable clash with the flight paths of migrating wildfowl, in particular Brent geese, so Stansted was expanded instead.
    Last winter, there were many thousands of geese in the Thames estuary so Boris island is as insane as Foulness was.
    I thought we are a party that tried to ptrotect the natural environment.

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