Simon Jenkins: Never mind a third runway – what Heathrow needs is managed decline

In a brilliantly written comment piece in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins sets out some timely thoughts on the matter of a new runway. People should read the whole article – it is so well written. Simon says: “If more capacity were vital, the market would have spoken.”…. “Never take a fact from a lobbyist. Heathrow runways have nothing to do with ‘vital British business’. The idea that spending a staggering £18bn on one runway is economically essential is ludicrous. The economy has far more need of better roads to ports, more commuter trains or cheaper electricity…. A full 80% of London’s airport capacity serves one industry: foreign leisure travel. That industry is, overwhelmingly, Britons going abroad, and is thus negative to the balance of payments. Business export travel is a trivial part of the sum. If this whole argument were really about something “essential”, Heathrow would cancel its 20% of domestic flights and discontinue all tourist destinations. If more capacity were really so vital, then the market would have spoken.” …”The days of deciding on infrastructure through “predict and provide” should be over.” …”Heathrow should be phased out or – like City airport – confined to predominantly business destinations. Air travel should be discouraged not encouraged, and airlines dispersed closer to their markets across Britain.
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Never mind a third runway – what Heathrow needs is managed decline

If more capacity were vital, the market would have spoken. So let’s discourage these polluting flights and spend the money on roads and trains instead

 

Never take a fact from a lobbyist. Heathrow runways have nothing to do with “vital British business”. The idea that spending a staggering £18bn on one runway is economically essential is ludicrous. The economy has far more need of better roads to ports, more commuter trains or cheaper electricity. That they lack the glamour of an airport should not be the issue.

A full 80% of London’s airport capacity serves one industry: foreign leisure travel. That industry is, overwhelmingly, Britons going abroad, and is thus negative to the balance of payments. Business export travel is a trivial part of the sum.

If this whole argument were really about something “essential”, Heathrow would cancel its 20% of domestic flights and discontinue all tourist destinations. If more capacity were really so vital, then the market would have spoken. London’s unmentioned “third airport”, at Stansted, would be bursting. Instead, it is half empty. Northolt lies almost unused. Not much essential here.

Even Britain’s premier airline, BA, has deserted the case for Heathrow. The whole argument is over the profits of the British Airports Authority (BAA). [It is now actually HAL – Heathrow Airport Ltd.  AW note].  But we should remember that Stansted is below capacity because of a decision of the last Labour government to stop BAA from expanding the airport to the same size as Heathrow. That decision was compounded when David Cameron, in 2011, approved the lunatic sale of Stansted to Manchester Airports Group.

The days of deciding on infrastructure through “predict and provide” should be over. If not, we would be building 100 hospitals and a dozen motorways. The desire for more foreign travel is understandable but nonessential. An extra hour on a holiday via Stansted or Gatwick hardly jeopardises the economy.

Meanwhile, flying noisy jets over congested cities is antediluvian, and deliberately generates severe ground pollution. Heathrow should be phased out or – like City airport – confined to predominantly business destinations.

Air travel should be discouraged not encouraged, and airlines dispersed closer to their markets across Britain. As for more capacity, if is really needed, then use Stansted and Gatwick. They harm fewer people.

Why cannot Cameron and his pusillanimous transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, see this?

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/11/third-runway-heathrow

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See also earlier:

 

Simon Jenkins comment: Don’t buy the idea that Heathrow expansion is ‘good for the nation’

Simon Jenkins was on great form when he wrote a comment piece in the Evening Standard, on the subject of Heathrow and its expansion hopes.  Well worth reading, in full.  It is so full of wise words, telling analysis and crushing put-downs that summarising it is impossible. But here are a few quotes: “Heathrow was only allowed to grow because gutless ministers dared not stand up to the airlines lobby.” …”Heathrow is primarily for leisure travel, and that travel is overwhelmingly outbound. A new Heathrow runway is an aid to the foreign tourist industry…”…”Of course it would generate economic activity and jobs. So does all infrastructure. So would a heliport in Hyde Park. But it has nothing to do with “British exports”. Precisely the opposite.” …”We should have no truck with the archaic “predict and provide” line of the Davies report. Just because more people want an airport does not mean a runway must be built. …. Demand is not God.” … “Air travel is overwhelmingly leisure travel, a modern luxury that needs no subsidy nor deserves planning privilege.” … ” a bigger Heathrow should be unthinkable. It should concentrate on business travel. Above all, the decision should be decided on a proper plan, not the Davies report’s attempt to reconcile competing lobbyists.” …. “We just need to keep calm and remember, they are in it for the money.  All else is hogwash.”

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/11/simon-jenkins-comment-dont-buy-the-idea-that-heathrow-expansion-is-good-for-the-nation/

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See also

Heathrow third runway decision put off until at least summer 2016
10.12.2015

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/10/heathrow-third-runway-decision-airport-expansion