Real battle begins over 3rd runway at Heathrow

11.1.2009   (Telegraph)

The decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow is just days away but the
battle over the future of the world’s busiest international passenger airport
is only now beginning in earnest.

By Andrew Alderson, Patrick Hennessy and Patrick Sawer

The expected announcement from Gordon Brown that the runway is to go ahead will
lead to fierce fighting between politicians, businessmen, environmentalists and
residents near the airport.

Labour MPs will turn against each other and Conservative MPs will squabble over
how best to make political capital out of the dispute – and what is the best alternative
to expansion at Heathrow.

On one side are a group of businessmen who believe that a new runway at Hounslow,
west London, is essential to Britain’s future economic prosperity.

On the other side are a rival group of businessmen and politicians who believe
it is better to have further expansion at Stansted, Essex, or even to build a
new airport.

Environmentalists concerned by the damage they say expansion at Heathrow and
other airports will cause to the planet are expected to step up their demonstrations.

Militant protests against the expansion at Heathrow may begin as early as tomorrow.
Climate Rush, a leading protest group, is planning a “peaceful” event at Terminal
1 from 7pm, but there are fears this could escalate.

BAA, the airport operator, is increasingly confident that the Government will
approve the new £13 billion runway at Heathrow airport, which currently handles
67 million passengers a year.

The political battle in the run-up to the decision has been intense for both
main parties. On the Government side, it has long been clear that Mr Brown would
back the scheme, which chimes with his drive to boost the flagging economy with
a series of job-creating “public works” schemes.

The arrival of Geoff Hoon at the transport department in last autumn’s reshuffle
also gave the project a boost. Mr Hoon immediately signalled his support and announced
the Government’s backing “in principle” at the end of last year.

However, there has remained a significant group within the Cabinet with grave
doubts, including Harriet Harman, the Commons leader, and the Miliband brothers – David, the Foreign Secretary, and Ed, the Climate Change Secretary.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, has been the most significant Cabinet opponent and
hinted that he might resign if the Government broke its promise that the project
would have tight environmental safeguards.

Over the past few days, however, Mr Benn appears to have been won over and government
sources now say there is no prospect of his resignation.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, has given his strong backing for the project.

The full Cabinet is expected to give official approval after its meeting on Tuesday.

Ministers will then face a back-bench rebellion – 41 Labour MPs have already
signed a Commons motion objecting to the runway. A recent poll showed that it
could lose Labour four marginal seats in west London at the next election.

Assuming that the runway wins government support and gets through Parliament,
the political spotlight will switch to the Tories.

The Opposition has officially come out against the expansion of Heathrow – and
against a second runway at Stansted – in an attempt to underline the Tories’ green
credentials, with Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, and Justine Greening, a shadow treasury minister, taking up the cudgels.

Ms Villiers last week called the issue a major political dividing line, and added:
“People who want to stop these runways going ahead have a clear choice at the
general election. If they don’t want these runways, they should vote Conservative.”

Another key Tory objector is Boris Johnson, the London mayor, who favours a new airport in the Thames Estuary. “I believe
we should also be brave and consider what could be a beautiful and long-term solution,
and one with big environmental attractions,” he said.

With the next election due at the latest by June 2010, an incoming Conservative government would face a political dilemma reminiscent
of that which faced Labour in 1997, when it had to decide whether to proceed with
the Millennium Dome.

The Tories could rush through a new aviation policy blocking Heathrow expansion
under the 2008 Planning Act.   With a planning application not expected until 2011, that would be an effective measure if it could be got through parliament.

A third runway at Heathrow is almost certain to have significant effects for
other major airport expansion schemes and proposed road and rail projects.  However,
it does not mean that expansion at Stansted or other airports will be shelved.  
The planning inquiry for a second runway at Stansted will be heard on April 15 and
judged on its merits

New transport links to Heathrow would receive an immediate fillip from a go-ahead
for runway three. This would include the proposed $4.5 billion Heathrow Hub, a high-speed rail-link with cities such as Birmingham and Manchester by 2019,
the year before runway three would be likely to open.

Critics of the extra runway say it would lead to a rise in the number of flights from Heathrow each year from 480,000 to 700,000.     This would result in significant additional pollution, noise and traffic problems.
They argue that the roads to and from the airport are already too congested.

The village of Sipson would be wiped off the map if the third runway gets the
go-ahead. With its 700 homes, three pubs, restaurant, and handful of shops, Sipson
is directly in the runway’s path.

Bryan Sobey moved to Sipson as a newlywed in 1951, when it was still surrounded
by fields and many of its residents were employed in agriculture.

Over the years, in the face of the airport’s insatiable appetite for land, Sipson’s
inhabitants have maintained a steadfast community spirit. “Heathrow is like a
juggernaut,” said Mr Sobey, a retired customs officer who used to work at the
airport.    “Anything and anybody that stands in its way gets crushed.”

Environmentalists are expected to take their challenges to the courts in the
months ahead, but tomorrow’s scheduled meeting between the Prime Minister and
supporters of a third runway looks to be carefully timed.

It means that Mr Brown will be able to indicate that, with support from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, London First and the TUC, the project has overwhelming support.


link to article


see also


Friends of the Earth have produced two briefings on Heathrow   (January 2009)

1.  A full FoE briefing on why the Government must say no to expanding Heathrow: 

2.  A FoE  briefing on the history of BAA’s broken promises on Heathrow: