The decision to go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow makes no sense on any criterion. The business case is thin in the extreme. Most passengers are leisure travellers and in any case over a third are transit. All these businesses which support it should examine the proposal using their own economic models. If there were really a great shortage of air capacity in London, then the price of air tickets would be soaring. In fact, the opposite is the case, with air fares lower than at any time in their history. And that’s not just a product of the downturn and low cost airlines. It results from the fact that there is an adequate supply of seats.
I need hardly comment on the environmental aspects. While much of the opposition is based on climate change, there are other reasons too – the whole of this side of London is going to be turned into a mass of roads and warehouses, which will blight the area for miles around. And as for the noise – it seems inconceivable that anyone will want to live there. In any rational economic assessment, the reduction in land values and house prices ought to be taken into account.
Interesting that as a sop, the government has opposed mixed mode use, presumably for environmental reasons which is ironic to say the least. As for the rail part of the announcement, that is thin in the extreme. All Hoon has said is that a high speed line will be considered – something that was actually in the 2001 and 2005 manifestos – and that work on electrification will proceed, which was happening anyway. Moreover, high speed trains cannot replace much of what a new runway would provide. There are a limited number of destinations that can be served by high speed trains and several of these already have excellent rail services from London – Manchester, Paris, Brussels and presumably soon, Amsterdam. Even timings to Scotland are not that bad if security and travel to the airport are taken into account.
The argument that Heathrow risks losing out to other airports is equally laughable. London has five airports and while it is useful having hubs, faster connections between them would reduce the need for a new runway.
But here’s a prediction. None of this will ever happen. All that coverage saying that Sipson is doomed and the airport has been given the go-ahead is wide of the mark. Either the proposal will be thrown out by the Tories or, by concerted opposition or, when serious money finally needs to be invested in it, the rationale will have disappeared. As one of my correspondents put it, no runway decision has ever survived a general election. This one will be no exception.
The interesting question is why does Labour do this? Why is it so in hock to business? My theory from talking to ministers is that they have no understanding of the private sector, only a fear that it will turn against them. So they feel compelled to give into them at any turn.