No Third Runway for Heathrow?

According to The Times of June 17th, 2008, our party leader, David Cameron has ‘all but ruled out’ the proposed third runway of Heathrow airport. This, according to the same article, came after ‘after months of internal debate.’ Now I’m commenting on this now simply out of shock of hearing it – clearly I had other matters to deal with around this time. But since this is the party I feel most closely aligned with, and most likely would vote for should I be in the UK come the time of the next general election (unless of course I can get an absentee ballot?), I have to question the logic of this particular announcement.

I fully endorse and support most of what Cameron is saying with regards to the environment. Having been involved in environmental work, involving myself with making my own students’ Union carbon neutral (in accord with the NUSSL Sound Impact Award Scheme), and having taken an interest in the natural world for as long as I can remember, it would seem logical I would fall in with the “green lobby” on this matter. Greenpeace certainly was pleased with his announcement, as I’m sure were many “Not In My Backyard” lobby groups in the London and Kent areas.

However I do not, and I will give you my reasons.

David Cameron argues that ‘much of the pressure on the airport was caused by overseas passengers using Heathrow to change planes, who brought little economic benefit to the UK during the few hours they were in the country.’ Considering the thousands of people employed by BAA and all the companies working in and around the airport, and the economic multiplier effect of all those jobs, I have a very hard time thinking this argument stands well on its own. Along with the fact, based on what BA CEO Willie Walsh said on June 25th ( article), that its not simply ‘overseas passengers,’ but many flying down to connect to international flights from the North, Manchester and Scotland.

The option, suggested by the Conservative Party is a £20 billion high speed (TVG style, like in France) rail link to connect London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds; bypassing the West Coast Main Line, rather than improving the current route, similar to what happened to the ECML in the 1980’s and 90’s. But then there still remains the question of what people do when they get to London, in order to reach Heathrow. The Heathrow Express from Paddington certainly helps, but it would be awfully irritating to have to get from Euston, Kings Cross or any station in that area considering the slow and often cramped nature of the tube lines (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City) which connect those stations to Paddington.

The dig at ‘overseas passengers’ strikes me as a thinly veiled cry of the economic protectionist kind; sadly the sort which prospers in times of economic difficulty.

That could be the next reason why Cameron, should he get into office (which regardless of my views on this matter, I am hoping is the case), might push for this not to take place. That to me smacks at short-sightedness, for our our countries infrastructure and for our economy. Willie Walsh, in that same article, said it “is essential for business capitals that want to succeed in a global economy,” that their main airports, like Heathrow, perform the “hub” function, criticised in that speech by Cameron. Looking at it globally, it is all to easy to envisage, should Cameron go through with blocking this, that Heathrow’s rivals: Frankfurt (which is the main one), Amsterdam and Paris, could overtake it as a regional international hub for the UK and Europe. BAA chief, Colin Matthew’s, said this would be “a fundamental, strategic error” considering it is when the airports “direct connections to the rest of the world could not be more important.”

Equally short sighted is Cameron citing the issues that BA and BAA had when Terminal 5 was opened, as reason to deny the viability of further expanding Heathrow. Another runway would be a long term solution to the issue of Heathrow’s current overcrowding and issues of operating at overcapacity. Further citing the economic argument: the runway could cost anywhere from £7 to £13 billion, whilst the railway proposed could be £20 billion, or more – considering how easily railway construction can over run cost estimates.

It is also worth noting the Oxford Economic Forecasting (OEF) report regarding the extra runway, that ‘Britain would get an extra £7bn of economic benefits a year by 2030.’ The newly-created International Business Advisory Council for London, chaired by Sir Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP, the advertising group, along with many other influential business leaders, have called for the party to rethink its stance on the new runway.

Heathrow has waited far too long for this, and so has London, which will only be strengthened by increasing and improving the capacity of the airport. Despite the popularity Cameron gained amongst environmentalists, we must remember that for the Heathrow area, the environmental effects will most likely be negligible (unlike Boris Johnson’s support for the poorly thought out airport proposal in the wetlands of Kent, where the environmental affects would be devastating). The environmental arguments in opposition to the third runway simply can not outweigh, on this matter of national importance, the economic arguments in its favour. For the sake of the nations economy David Cameron and the party ought to get behind the proposed third runway, and make it happen, not get behind it simply to push it out the door in order to curry favour with the environmental lobby; something Cameron looks like he has done for “the politics, not the policy,” (quote from his Cameron’s article, dated 16th June, 2008, The Evening Standard) which is exactly what he criticises Gordon Brown of doing.

By Dominic Tarn.


2 thoughts on “No Third Runway for Heathrow?

  1. “we must remember that for the Heathrow area, the environmental effects will most likely be negligible”

    So, adding an extension onto Heathrow the size of Gatwick will have a negligible effect! This shows how ill-informed some people are.

    The economic case for Heathrow expansion has not been made, David Cameron recognises this. You quote the Oxford Economic Forecasting. Why not take a look at the CE Delft report which can be found at

    You mention Sir Martin Sorrell and Willie Walsh. A joke really considering both these men do not give a monkeys about the UK economy. Sir Martin has recently announced WPP will move some operations to Ireland for tax reasons and Willie has tried to use blackmail by saying BA will move out of the UK – so much for caring for the economy!!

    The environmental criteria cannot be met – this has been proved in the documents from the DfT which were obtained by Justine Greening MP under the freedom of information act. The government knows the environmental criteria cannot be met and therefore will ask the EU for a 5 year derogation on the EU directive due to come into effect in 2010.

    But aside from the economic and environmental arguments what about the people?

    This expansion is one to far. All other expansion at Heathrow has taken place within the airport boundaries. Throughout the T5 enquiry local people were promised T5 would be the last. They were told that T5 was needed because terminal capacity was a problem, they were told that runway capacity was not a problem. Only six short months after T5 was granted they were calling for a 3rd runway. Will this be the last? I doubt it.

    Come and visit the area to be destroyed. Speak to the 2000 people who will be forcibly evicted from their homes. Come and talk to all the school children who will be without a school place when the Ofsted recommended school is demolished. Come and speak to the schoolchildren whose schools will be planted at either end of this runway. Come and speak to the thousands of school children throughout Hounslow who will be under the flights paths of planes taking off and landing every minute of every day. Come and speak to the thousands of us who will have to live the the “negligible” effects.

  2. I can see why you took offence to that particular phrase, especially after taking a look at Lord Smith’s most recent report. I was also aware of the movement of WPP to Ireland, and of the DfT report you mentioned. I am not quite so ill informed as you are suggesting. However, I am not effected by it as you are, or as you rightly say, the tens of thousands of people in the Hounslow area. I do know people from that area, and will ask them their thoughts on the matter.

    However I do believe the economic arguments are more compelling then you might want to believe, in light of your desire to protect your area of London. A natural desire I can completely understand. I’m sure, had I been alive when ICI came to my particular part of the country I would of been horrified, regardless of the economic and strategic benefits. Despite whatever opposition their may have been, those enormous chemical works still went ahead, on the edge, and in some cases, in the middle of a large area of very crucial (environmentally) marshland. Now we are talking of people, not birds, and therefore you might argue that Boris Johnson’s support for the airport in the Kent Marshlands is better than a further extension to Heathrow.

    The environmental damage to that area, which is currently unaffected by direct human inhabitation, would, in my mind, be greater then the environmental damage an increase to Heathrow would cause, being that the Hounslow and surrounding area has already been so enormously affected by the airport. In that sense, the use of the word “negligible” was in relative terms, and after weighing up in my mind using a crude cost benefit analysis by comparison to the option of a high speed rail link. The immediate human cost is expensive. However the cost to the economy, and the country (because Heathrow is one of the crucial enabling ingredients to the success of The City and Canary Wharf area) is greater if we neglect that airport, and don’t find a way to increase its capacity, or chose the rail link instead. Likewise the environmental damage would be huge if we tried to place a new airport in any of the other suggested locations. Unless a third way can be found, this seems to be the best option, and David Cameron’s hostility simply appears misguided.

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