Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Running away from a Runaway Problem

So the Tories have bottled it; they won’t make a decision about the next London runway until after the mayoral elections.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the government would “continue to work on all shortlisted locations”.

A decision had previously been expected by the end of this year.

An independent report on airport expansion by Sir Howard Davies in July backed a plan to build a third runway at Heathrow.

But he said that the new runway should come with severe restrictions to reduce the environmental and noise effects, and did not completely rule out a second runway at Gatwick.
BBC New Website, 10 December 2015 : Heathrow Airport runway decision delayed until summer

The decision is actually easy – if you are not frightened politically.

  1. Can you live with the environmental and noise restrictions of a third Heathrow runway?
  2. Can you accept that unless something changes dramatically a fourth Heathrow runway is out of the question?
  3. Can you live with the PM reversing his pledge “‘No ifs, no buts, there’ll be no third runway at Heathrow”?

Yet announcing any decision to go ahead with expanding Heathrow before the London mayoral elections in May 2016 would be problematic for the government, given that both the Labour and Conservative contenders, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith are both against a third Heathrow runway – as are many Conservative MPs and some ministers.
BBC News Website, 10 December 2015 : Heathrow Airport expansion: Why the renewed delay?

If the answer to any of the above is “no”, you can kill off any idea of Heathrow Expansion – and of the UK having a modern 4-runway hub (Boris Island being unviable due to cost, worries about fog and possible conflict with continental airports’ flight paths).

So then the question is:

  1. Do you really need more runway capacity in the South? (Think carefully, Dave, the Northern Powerhouse is meant to shift the country’s economic centre of gravity northwards – you do believe in that don’t you?)

If the answer is “yes”, Gatwick gets a new runway. “End of”

If Dave does not go for Gatwick, we conclude

  • he believes in devolution and the Northern Powerhouse and announces expansion in the North (unlikely) or,
  • he does not actually believe in the need for more airport capacity (unlikely given what his friends in the business lobby¹ are saying), or
  • he is intending to drive through a Heathrow decision after the mayoral election. (Tuition Fees anyone?)

If the answer is “no” a “Northern” airport gets another runway. Manchester already has two runways, so does Birmingham get another (not really room), or does East Midlands – HS2 is meant to go directly under it – but currently has no connection – (bit tight and tough on Castle Donnington).

The decision tree looks fairly simple, so why the delay.

¹ “Business leaders will be tearing their hair out at the news that, yet again, a decision on expanding the UK’s airport capacity has been delayed,” said Simon Walker from the Institute of Directors.

“Of course this is difficult choice, which is the reason the government set up the Airports Commission to make a recommendation balancing economic needs, environmental concerns and the impact on local residents,” he continued.

“We have to ask now, what was the point of the Commission if the government still fails to act?”

Meanwhile the business lobby group, the CBI said the decision was “deeply disappointing”.
BBC New Website, 10 December 2015 : Heathrow Airport runway decision delayed until summer


Or do we think radically about Air Travel?

There should be little need for internal air travel in a country as geographically small as the mainland Great Britain – given an ambitious programme of:

  • devolution,
  • high speed internet conferencing and
  • real high speed rail (High Speed Leeds-Manchester is unlikely to exceed 125mph – we need to be thinking in terms of at least 250mph)

Likewise travel from London to “near Europe” should not need to be by air (and perhaps will be greatly reduced if Dave leads us out of the EU)

Long haul business travel, where possible should be by wide-bodied aircraft (again this may be reduced if we exit the EU). Long haul leisure travel should wherever possible be from local airports.



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