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 (telegraph.co.uk 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.