Heathrow’s third runway is not happening – move on. John Stewart.
It turns out that the stories about the government having changed its mind on a Heathrow 3rd runway were just rumours, set off by the aviation industry as part of their PR machine. The Financial Times quotes George Osborne’s office: “There is no softening on the question of a third runway at Heathrow.” This is significant, as the chancellor was the man consistently fingered as pushing for a review of the policy on Heathrow. In November 2011 the Chancellor said the government would “explore all options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow”. In reality, the practical and political difficulties of building a 3rd airport at Heathrow are insuperable. The high-profile aviation industry campaign has not produced any convincing evidence to back up its vociferous claims that the UK economy will suffer unless there is additional runway capacity. John McDonnell has called for publication of all contacts between the aviation industry and ministers, civil servants and party officials at all levels, to reveal lobbying.
27 March 2012 (Guardian)
The aviation industry’s tired third runway campaign ignores the facts of the future of air travel, and a total lack of political will
Rumours that the government was about to perform a U-turn on its decision to scrap a third runway at Heathrow crescendoed over the weekend. It turns out that’s all they were: rumours. The Financial Times quotes George Osborne’s office: “There is no softening on the question of a third runway at Heathrow.” This is significant, as the chancellor was the man consistently fingered as pushing for a review of the policy on Heathrow.
So where did the rumours come from? They have been spread as part of a sustained campaign by the aviation industry to overturn the third runway decision. But they were given impetus by Osborne’s autumn statement in November last year, in which he signalled that new runways in the south-east of England, ruled out in the coalition agreement, were a possibility. He said the government would “explore all options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow”. Although the statement specifically excluded Heathrow, it allowed the industry to claim that the pro-growth chancellor was secretly trying to engineer a reversal of the decision to scrap a third runway.
It has always been naive of the industry to believe it could force a change of heart on Heathrow. The Liberal Democrats would not tolerate it. For the Conservatives, it would be politically untenable. The transport secretary, Justine Greening, a long-standing and vocal opponent of Heathrow expansion, would need to resign. Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park, has said he would step down and force a by-election. The party would lose votes and seats. But, more importantly, all political parties now accept the reality: the Heathrow battle has been fought; the third runway question has been settled.
This doomed industry campaign for a third runway has tended to obscure the change of thinking that is taking place within government. This month, as part of a major speech on infrastructure, David Cameron said: “I’m not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the south-east … Gatwick is emerging as a business airport for London, under a new owner competing with Heathrow.”
It is the Osborne message: no to Heathrow but we will no longer rule out all runway capacity in the south-east. This theme will be developed further when the government publishes its draft aviation policy this summer. Greening will seek evidence-based views on whether there is a need for more airport capacity in London and the south-east.
It is the critical question. The high-profile industry campaign has not produced any convincing evidence to back up its vociferous claims that the UK economy will suffer unless there is additional runway capacity. Arguments that Heathrow has fewer flights to second-tier cities in China than Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle are no substitute for sound analysis.
The evidence that does exist shows that London continues to be the best connected city in the world. An influential survey by global property consultants Cushman & Wakefield concluded: “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as the leading city in which to do business.”
Another recent report, International Air Connectivity for Business, published by WWF, found Heathrow had more flights to the world’s key business destinations than any other airport in Europe – in fact, more than the combined total of its two nearest rivals, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt.
The aviation industry, and some business interests, will argue that London will not retain its premier position without more runways. Greening is right to call for evidence on this. It is a complex question. The air travel industry of the next half century is going to look very different to that of the past 50 years. The debate will need to look forward to a world in which oil prices are increasing; climate targets are more pressing; the use of video-conferencing by business continues to rise; high-speed rail has the potential to replace many short-haul flights; the development of new airports, with their own hubs, in the fast-developing economies of the global south becomes a fact of life. It’s a world away from the distracting, marketing-based campaign for a third runway at Heathrow that the aviation industry has been running.
From John McDonnell MP
Since they lost the argument in the last general election and a
consensus was established across all political parties against a third
runway at Heathrow, BAA and the aviation industry have mounted a
vastly expensive lobbying campaign to reverse this decision (Tories may be on the final approach into a U-turn, 26 March).
Nothing has changed to justify any party reneging on its commitment. The threat of
a dramatic increase in air and noise pollution remains the same;
10,000 of my constituents would still have their homes rendered
unlivable and at least 2 million Londoners would suffer from large-
scale noise disturbance. The threat of climate change has not gone
away and European carbon emissions trading had already been taken into
The only change has been the revelation that companies have been able
to buy access to ministers with the opportunity to influence policy. I
am calling for the publication of all contacts between the aviation
industry and ministers, civil servants and party officials at all
When politicians can be bought and government policies are put
up for sale, it is left to the people themselves to assert their right
to restore democracy. So I give the government this warning. If it
seeks to ride roughshod over the democratic wishes of our people on
this issue, we will call up the largest environmental direct action
campaign this country has seen. It won’t just be a campaign about a
runway it will be a campaign to reclaim democracy and demand honest
John McDonnell MP
Lab, Hayes and Harlington
Heathrow: The whirlpool of uncertainty is playing to the aviation industry’s advantage
Date added: March 26, 2012
John Stewart, Chair of AirportWatch and of HACAN, writes about the flurry of publicity over the past few days, with speculative stories about the prospects of a third Heathrow runway. John says this whirlpool of uncertainty is playing to the aviation industry’s advantage. This campaign is aiming to change opinion in government, and is one lacking supporting facts and figures, and is based on innuendo, off-the-record briefings, private lunches and advertising slogans. The campaign is typified by the BAA adverts plastered across the London underground. MPs have said they cannot remember such a sustained campaign from any industry.
Simon Jenkins: London’s airports and a string of broken promises
Date added: March 27, 2012
What value a politician’s promise? As London airport policy returns to centre stage, this issue is centre stage. Nothing in London politics has been more cynical than the “historic pledges” given by governments to residents around Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports. Time after time local people have been told that if only they would capitulate and accept giant jets flying over their homes, “There will never be any question of further expansion in the future.” The congestion and noise pollution associated with major airports in residential areas are now regarded, in most countries, as unacceptable. The aviation industry once promised to invent engines so quiet that airport noise would be a thing of the past. In London, millions must have been devoted to lobbying successive governments to break the promises of no expansion from their predecessors.
Why Heathrow does not need to be expanded and the UK does not need a new hub airport
Date added: March 26, 2012
There have been a great many speculative articles over the past few days, since the Chancellor announced the consultation on the draft white paper on aviation policy was suddenly, and unexpectedly, delayed till summer. A likely cause of the speculation is that the DfT is probably having to include Heathrow in the consultation, or risk legal challenge. GACC (the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) has set out some of the key reasons why Heathrow does not need to be expanded, and why a new hub airport is not needed in the UK. Gatwick and Stansted have space and are well under capacity. There is nothing stopping airlines putting on flights to the Far East from London airports, it if is their choice to do so. If these flights could be run at a profit, they would be provided. Geographically, for travellers from Europe heading east, the UK is in the wrong place, so is not well situated as a hub for them. In another informative article, Murad Qureshi also set out why Heathrow does not need to be physically expanded, as its passenger numbers are already growing, it has more than enough space for business travellers, and large numbers of convenient flights via hubs like Dubai to anywhere further east. The problem with the growing number of passengers using Heathrow is the noise and local air pollution.
Boris Johnson: Heathrow third runway will not be built while I’m mayor
Date added: March 26, 2012
Boris yesterday said that reviving the plan “would be an environmental disaster”. He said: “It would mean a huge increase in plans over London, and intolerable traffic and fumes in the west of the city – and it will not be built as long as I am Mayor of London. That is why the Government is right to look at all new solutions for extra aviation capacity except the third runway at Heathrow.” The Department for Transport said last week opposition to a third runway at Heathrow is a “Coalition policy” that will not change. Ken LIvingstone also opposes a 3rd runway at Heathrow, arguing short-haul capacity should instead be switched from Heathrow to Gatwick and Stansted to open up more long-haul slots to emerging markets including India and China.