Airport muddle highlights transport policy chaos

The coalition seems to be on a kamikaze course when it comes to transport. Actually, that’s a tad unfair to those suicidal Japanese pilots, who at least knew where they were going. Like so many of its predecessors, this Government has failed to recognise that transport affects everyone, almost every day. It is not a secondary issue, of interest only to nerds and trainspotters.
Big mistake — as the current mess over aviation policy shows.
Building a third runway at Heathrow was ruled out in the last Conservative manifesto for the narrow political reason of appeasing local voters. In its place came a plan for a high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and ultimately, Manchester, as if the schemes and the problems they were trying to resolve were interchangeable. They are not. HS2 will free up precious little runway capacity at Heathrow, where domestic flights have been declining for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the case for expanding Heathrow has been made ever louder and more clearly by business people frustrated by the lack of flights to Asia. Then, just as a growth-hungry government appeared to be warming to the need for more tarmac in the South East David Cameron went and appointed Justine Greening as Transport Secretary. He could scarcely have chosen someone with more baggage than the MP for the flightpath constituency of Putney, who is a fervent opponent of the third runway.
And then in bounced Boris Johnson with his idea for an airport in the Thames estuary, adding further to the muddle. Boris has declared himself firmly against Heathrow expansion and grandly claimed that it will not happen while he is Mayor. But he has no power in the matter. Such a decision would be taken by the Government after a public inquiry.
We had been promised a consultation paper on aviation policy this month, but once again politics has intervened. With the mayoral election looming it has been postponed until the summer.
Long-term transport policy is being created on the hoof. Irrespective of whether the third runway or HS2 should go ahead, ministers are stumbling from one half-baked idea (Heathwick anyone?) to another.
They totally fail to understand the importance of transport in people’s lives. Yes, health and education are vital, but these are services used intermittently. Transport, on the other hand, is used by almost everyone daily and yet it features as a political afterthought. The coalition has proved no exception to the rule that transport is the great neglected area of politics.
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  • Paul Holt

    There is an argument that Heathrow needs not a third runway, but three new runways.

    I’ve asked for this before, what is the CW vision for transport, to include road, rail and air?

  • You might think that things are bad in longer-distance transport, but have a look at local transport policy, and you’ll cry. Oh for some proper joined-up thinking, allowing people to efficiently mix rail with bicycles or buses for a door-to-door service. And, of course, some decent investment to make cycling an attractive mode of transport to ordinary people, who are keen to give it a go (low-cost, healthy, quick in towns, free parking, etc.) but are too afraid to risk it on our motor-vehicle-infested local roads.

    The saddest thing is that this isn’t rocket science, and we have many examples of countries and cities that have excellent transport provision, both for short local journeys and long-distance ones. It appears that the successive governments of the UK have a sole aim for transport of maximising fossil fuel usage, presumably to maximise taxation income.

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  • Anonymous

    I fully agree about the decline of domestic flights, but think this is multi-causal; the WCML up-grade, the 3 year recession and airlines re-allocating slots to more profitable international routes. If completed to Scotland it seems perfectly reasonable that all mainland scheduled domestic flights should under-go modal shift to less polluting HSR. I’ve seen various figures, for this but usually in the 10,000 to 20,000 atm range.
    What CW has ommitted is the potential for considerable modal shift to/from near European European destinations – probably something in the 20,000 to 30,000 ATM range; and let’s not forget how effective government policy can be in encouraging this.
    One of the loony Green arguements against HS2, was that short haul flights from Heathrow would be transferred to more polluting long haul. The stupidity of this can be now be seen, as it has opened the door to the far worse option of additional runways being built somewhere in the South East. A 4 runway Thames Estuary airport open 24/7 could easily operate at 1,000,00 ATMs / Annum.
    Besides opposing HS2, it is the Greens who have also prevented the replacement of old style nuclear reactors, resulting in them being kept operating long past their sell-by dates. Also they have saddled us with thousands of useless windmills; history tells us that windmills fell out of use and were replaced by steam, so that they could operate 24/7. And then in their stronghold of Brighton / Hove they upset their binmen, when they imposed a one day a week ban on bacon / sausage sandwiches and rolls !

    Meanwhile the present HS2 proposals have become a property developers dream for OOK and Curzon St; but offer little in the short term to effect modal shift from Heathrow air to rail. From what I can see OOK is too far from Heathrow, will not have an international station and questions are already being asked about capacity for the NLL. What is the point of a HSR spur to Heathrow in 20 years time, when additional longhaul capacity is required much sooner?

    My suspicion is that far too much Tory policy is made up over certain Old Etonians kitchen tables. 

  • Paul Holt

    “…presumably to maximise taxation income.”   There is an argument that the politicians behind Beeching knew precisely what the consequence – the explosion in private car transportation – would be, and proceeded to guzzle away at the consequent motoring taxation, only pausing to piously pronounce or cry More!   The squandering of motoring (and other) taxes is a big enough target, ranging from duck houses to PFI, that even a myopic CW cannot fail to hit, if he wanted to.   The story here is why CW is missing the unmissable target.

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