Why Heathrow deserves a more thorough debate

It is now August and a good time to reflect, especially on those issues which have received insufficient attention.

Although Brexit has understandably dominated politics for many months, it is worth noting that just six weeks ago Parliament made the decision to back a third runway at Heathrow airport.

The vote – by 415 to 119 – approved the National Planning Statement (NPS) that paves the way for the £14 billion construction project. Peers did not get a vote.

Some people, whatever their past thoughts on the pros and cons of a third Heathrow runway, might think that the issue has now been finally settled and it is time to move on. I think the opposite is the case.

A third Heathrow runway is far from a certainty. For a start a judicial review is already commencing, led by four London Boroughs and the Mayor of London. The whole financing of the project is also far from agreed. Indeed the financial arrangements of Heathrow as a company beg many questions as to whether they really can fund the project – and in addition finance the much needed surface transport improvements as well.

As the Financial Times rightly pointed out what MPs voted for was a third runway that will have to bridge 12 lanes of the nation’s busiest motorway while keeping traffic flowing and billions to upgrade train and road access. The full article is well worth a read.

Sadly MPs voted for a project, with no firm assurances as to who will write the massive cheques.

Examining the voting record of MPs it is also clear that some Labour MPs were swayed more by the influence of Unite union, than any serious consideration of the real issues. It is not just Boris Johnson who needs to justify how they voted to their constituents.

It is incredible that many MPs this year have been raising concerns about the lack of investment in transport and infrastructure projects in areas outside London and the South East. The House of Commons Transport Committee even published a report highlighting inadequate investment in the regions, just days after the Heathrow vote.

Yet MPs who voted for a third Heathrow runway voted for many billions (much of which will almost certainly be public money) to be spent solely in an area in and around the west of London. To vote in such a way, and then to complain about lack of investment outside of the London area is a stance these MPs might wish to reflect on over the Summer.

So let’s be absolutely clear, despite the thumping vote in favour of a third Heathrow runway the arguments against a third Heathrow have not been addressed

Many of the arguments in favour are outdated, most notably the obsession with hub airports.

Point to point flights are increasing. In just the last 12 months new point to point destinations from Stansted alone include Dubai, New York, Boston, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt, Reykjavik and Corsica. Similar increases in destinations can take place at other airports, but they will not happen if a third Heathrow runway goes ahead.

Two thirds of the UK live outside greater London and the South East of England, yet two thirds of flights start from London and the South East. That is not rational.

Ensuring the UK is internationally well connected, especially to growing markets around the world, doesn’t require a third Heathrow runway.

The environmental and the economic arguments against a third Heathrow runway are growing.

Heathrow have lobbied hard, but the arguments for a third Heathrow runway rest ultimately on the interests of its owners being met, not that of UK plc.

The campaign against a third Heathrow runway is not going away and Liberal Democrats will be at the forefront.

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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6 Comments

  • Antony Watts 3rd Aug '18 - 12:28pm

    Aiming to build a bigger Heathrow is a misconception of the future, of the globe and of UK. Do we want to be a global hub for travellers?

    Expanding airports is not a global position fo rUK and not a competitive fight we should have. There are many higher priorities in modern industry facing UK.

  • I’m strongly in favour of Heathrow’s expansion

    My reservations about it aren’t any of what Caroline lays out very reasonably above. My reservation is solely about aviation and CO2 emissions, but since any new runway will not be operational until the 2030s, aviation could well be well on the way to decarbonisation by then. Decarbonisation of cars is well underway in the UK and the motor vehicle landscape will be radically different by 2025 (if renewable energy production including nuclear continues to grow and displace fossil fuel based electricity production). Aviation is behind but it will catch up.

  • Richard Fagence 4th Aug '18 - 4:00pm

    I wonder where James Pugh lives? Out here where I live – approximately eight miles to the west of Heathrow as the 747 flies – we are a little less convinced that aviation “could well be on the way to decarbonisation” by the 2030s. Heathrow may be a terrible airport operator, but they employ incredibly talented lobbyists. And when are we going to see Boris lying in front of the bulldozers, as he told the good folk of Uxbridge he would in his acceptance speech? After all, he lies just about everywhere else, doesn’t he?

  • The expansion of Heathrow is, unfortunately, necessary – and should have happened a long time ago. For better or worse, there will be a continuing need for hub airports for the foreseeable future for business travel. The UK needs one – both for a thriving aviation industry and to be an attractive location for international companies. Heathrow is the only viable option, even though it will be challenging to expand.

    As you say, “Two thirds of the UK live outside greater London and the South East of England, yet two thirds of flights start from London and the South East.” That is exactly why you need a hub airport – so that there are enough passengers to have regular flights to a wide range of destinations.

    Yes, Caroline, Stansted has an increasing number of direct routes, but these are targeted at tourism, not business. I have recently booked flights to one of your examples, Frankfurt, and I had the choice of departing from Stansted at around 8am or arriving in Frankfurt at around 10pm. Not very attractive for a business traveler, compared to around twenty daily flights from Heathrow.

    Perhaps we need a new word “nomby” (not over my back yard).

  • I am amazed at the environmental optimism being shown here, and the failure to realise how fast catastrophe is moving up on us. Worldwide we need less flying, and it is simply not wise either to provide additional facilities for flying, or to resort to a conventional “economic growth” type argument which automatically leads to an assumption in favour of building more airport capacity – somewhere, even if not at Heathrow!

  • @Richard Fagence
    “”””Out here where I live – approximately eight miles to the west of Heathrow as the 747 flies – we are a little less convinced that aviation “could well be on the way to decarbonisation” by the 2030s. “”””

    Why does where you live determine whether you’re convinced aviation is on the road to decarbonisation or not?

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