Hello third runway, goodbye Ms Greening

The revival of interest in government circles on a third runway at Heathrow is fraught with difficulties for the Coalition. The notion that the Big Idea for transport would be High Speed Two which would obviate the need for a third runway was always nonsensical. I’m not for a moment suggesting that I believe the case for a third runway, but merely arguing that HS2 is a completely separate matter from demand for aviation.

Any serious move towards a third runway would create widespread dissent within the Tory party and immediately result in having to find another transport secretary. Indeed, the decision to appoint Justine Greening – whose constituency is under the flightpath and who has lobbied against the third runway – always seemed a bit odd given that already doubts about the decision to rule out Heathrow excpansion was being queried in Tory circles. Moreover, this is coming at a bad time for the mayoral election. Boris Johnson is already fulminating about it, and for once his ire is genuine, rather than a tactical manoeuvre to distance himself from an unpopular government.

Another local MP, Zac Goldsmith, has threatened to resign over the issue and there would be no shortage of other diseenters. Moreover, any decision to go ahead with the third runway would undermine the case for HS2 since it is supposed to – though it will not – reduce demand for flights from Heathrow. Airport capacity and expansion are always politically contentious, but the muddle of Tory policy has exacerbated the situation. My view is that ultimately there are plenty of runways and capacity in and around London which is blessed with five airports – six if Southend is included. If market forces were allowed to prevail, then slots at Heathrow could be sold to ensure that it was all those profitable flights to obscure Chinese provincial towns that filled the airport, rather than those to similar European towns.

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