Alistair Osborne (The Times) on the nonsense of MPs voting for a Heathrow runway, in the absence of most necessary details
Alistair Osborne, Chief Business Commentator in The Times, has written scathingly about Heathrow’s runway plans, and the lunacy of MPs being asked to vote on them – in the absence of just about all the key information they would need. He says: “MPs are always voting on things they don’t know much about. But you would think that, by now, a few facts would have been established ahead of this summer’s big vote — on the £14 billion third runway at Heathrow.” And the main message from Heathrow’s current consultation is “how much is still up in the air — a point you hope MPs on the Transport Committee will raise in their report [on the Airports NPS] due by Friday.” …”Yet it’s on the basis of these sketchy plans that MPs will vote for or against the project.” Heathrow are not even sure of the length and exact location of their 3rd runway. That is, says Alistair “One reason, maybe, for one glaring hole in the consultations: no news on flight paths. Indeed, Heathrow admits that it will not even be consulting on “flight path options” until “around 2021” — years after the MPs have voted. Other things that won’t be resolved before the MPs vote: “the project’s cost, final design, safety case, road and rail links, noise and air quality. Or to put it another way, just about everything we need to know. After half a century in the planning, you’d think Heathrow could do better than that.”
Runway decision made in the dark
For starters, the idea has been knocking around since 1968. Plus, the project has had a recent update: the £20 million waste of public money otherwise known as the 2015 Airports Commission report, the one that got all the traffic forecasts wrong and ducked two key issues: noise and air quality. On top, there’s been the government consultation on the Airports National Policy Statement.
And now? Well, Wednesday next week is the deadline for submissions to the airport’s own consultation — the one all “about helping to shape our expansion plans at an early stage”. Yes, an early stage. Heathrow’s not kidding, either. Despite spending £30 million so far on planning, the main message from its 70-pager is how much is still up in the air — a point you hope MPs on the transport committee will raise in their report due by Friday.
Yet it’s on the basis of these sketchy plans that MPs will vote for or against the project. Rather fundamentally, Heathrow doesn’t even yet know precisely where the runway is going. As it notes, that still requires “further work” to determine its “exact” length, “end locations” and “how they sit in relation to the Colnbrook and Sipson communities”. Neither does it know precisely how it will cross that problem known as the M25.
And partly because of all this, it’s a long way from producing a third runway safety case — done in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority. Of course, there’s no suggestion Heathrow would build anything that wasn’t safe. It’s just that “there will be ramifications that come with the safety case that raise questions over how many planes it can handle safely and the respite it can give over noise”.
Or so says Jock Lowe, the former Concorde pilot behind the other Heathrow plan shortlisted by the Airports Commission: the £5 billion cheaper Heathrow Hub project based on extending an existing runway. Mr Lowe says that the airport’s northwest runway plan has “significant flaws”, not least because of safety constraints around the middle runway.
Planes will require extra space for taxiing on the ground or turning in the air. And that, he says, will have two key effects.
First, Heathrow will not be able to deliver the promised 740,000 air movements a year; in fact less than 700,000, so cutting the project’s economic benefits.
Second, due to the complexity of flight paths caused by planes turning, the approaches will be much noisier than billed for local residents.
One reason, maybe, for one glaring hole in the consultations: no news on flight paths. Indeed, Heathrow admits that it will not even be consulting on “flight path options” until “around 2021” — years after the MPs have voted.
True, it dismisses Mr Lowe’s analysis, noting that the commission found his project “less attractive” — even if the commission did get quite a lot wrong. And as Heathrow points out, should the MPs vote in favour, there will be planning inquiries, further consultations and possible judicial reviews before anything actually gets built.
Yet here are a few things that won’t be resolved before the MPs vote: the project’s cost, final design, safety case, road and rail links, noise and air quality. Or to put it another way, just about everything we need to know. After half a century in the planning, you’d think Heathrow could do better than that.
Alistair Osborne writing in the Times: “Heathrow on flight path to nowhere”