Justine Greening MP gives local and national reasons and her preferred choice
1. It’s polluting #1: Air pollution created by Heathrow expansion is huge, in an area already breaching legal limits – Heathrow say there won’t be a single extra car journey having a 50 per cent bigger airport. I don’t think even they believe it. And they certainly have no plans how to make it happen.
2. It’s expensive: At £18 billion, it’s half as expensive again as the other option, Gatwick. Shoe-horning a new runway into a space that’s too small for it and also built up, means you need to expensively knock homes down and disrupt the road network. Which brings us onto the next point....
3. Scotland will lose its domestic routes unless it pays up: Because Heathrow expansion is so expensive (see Reason 2), using slots on short, domestic routes isn’t worth it compared to another full flight to New York . Scotland will have to pay to keep them, or get cut off. SNP…I don’t think this is the sort of independence you had in mind is it? And if you’re finding money for airports, surely investing in Scotland’s point to point routes is smarter, not bailing out expensive Heathrow?
4. The North will lose a big chunk of its transport budget: “Expand an airport by 50 per cent and have no extra car journeys” means lots of public transport taxpayer money devoted to overseas owned Heathrow Airport Ltd’s public transport growth plan. Even Heathrow accept it will cost £5bn, but TfL have estimated it’s an extra £10-15bn on top of that for transport links. Money which instead could be spent on railways and roads for people in the rest of the country.
5. It’s polluting #2: Noise pollution will affect up to 3 million Londoners. Tip: if you’re going to have a really noisy airport, don’t built it in the most densely populated bit of your entire country. If that’s a mistake your country has already made, don’t make it worse. There’s no such thing as a “quiet” plane and no aviation company will focus on designing one because Heathrow is the only airport of its size in such a populated residential area – tech companies are rightly focused on more environmentally sustainable planes.
6. Crash risk: Crash risk goes up by 60 per cent over the most densely populated bit of the country. We allow hundreds of planes to fly over our city every day, Heathrow has a great safety record, but is it sensible in today’s world to actively choose to allow lots more? And how can that make any sense, when there’s a safer alternative, Gatwick, in a much less populated area?
7. It’s financially risky: If things go wrong, it’s the next Carillion. Heathrow Airport Ltd already has significant debt and is borrowing even more to build a third runway. It’s “overbid” with it’s third runway proposal. Someone has to pay for that. That could well come taxpayers’ way. Or passengers and airlines may foot the extra bill, in which case it’s more bad news for Scotland again (see Reason 3).
8. Bad for Global Britain: Choosing to expand the most expensive airport for more capacity is like choosing to expand the country’s most expensive power station and thinking that’s smart for more energy. It’s not. It bakes in inefficiency. It makes new routes to emerging markets even more uncompetitive. So much for buccaneering Britain.
The Alternative: We’re an island without an airport strategy. First, at least get on and add some more capacity where it is viable. Gatwick causes less air pollution, is much cheaper, is less noisy to far fewer people, supports Scotland routes more than Heathrow, needs much less transport investment, has flights over far fewer people, and is less risky to build as the space has been set aside for it for years.
But even that’s not a long term strategy. After that we need a smarter South East England and regional airports strategy reflecting that people want point to point flights. Who likes wasting time changing planes in a hub airport if you can fly direct?
Low cost carriers on point to point are moving into long haul already which could be just the market shift regional airports and our economy needs. We may be about to sign off on a hub airport strategy at the very moment the hub model is on the wane. Time to stop heading down the Heathrow cul-de-sac. Britain deserves better.
Justine Greening MP
June 6, 2018