Observer: “Top Tories admit: we got it wrong on third runway at Heathrow”

There has been a rash of very similar stories in the Observer, the Independent on Sunday and other papers today. The story seems to be somewhat flimsy,  and based on no new evidence, on rather a slow news day.  There appears to be nothing new other than David Cameron’s vague comment, comment by the Chancellor, and a statement from Tim Yeo earlier.  Nothing else is new, other than journalist speculation.

The Observer says that according to senior sources, both David Cameron and George Osborne have been persuaded by pressure from industry to re-examine a 3rd Heathrow runway. Apparently they have been lobbied that otherwise trade will move elsewhere in the EU. The Liberal Democrats remain deeply opposed to a 3rd runway. MPs such as Vince Cable, Justine Greening and Zac Goldsmith would be deeply opposed. However, many senior Tories want to back the runway, and have this in their next general election manifesto. The possibility of using Northolt has been put forward again. The government is afraid that without a huge hub, even larger than Heathrow, the UK will be left behind economically. Those in favour of the 3rd runway are claiming the hugely increased carbon emissions from expanding UK aviation would be taken care of through the EU ETS


Ministers to rethink decision to rule out runway after warning that trade will move elsewhere unless airport expanded

by Toby Helm and Jamie Doward

24 March 2012

Radical options to increase airport capacity in the south-east – including developing RAF Northolt on the edge of London – are being urgently considered by the government amid growing fears that its decision to rule out a third runway at Heathrow is choking off economic growth.

According to senior sources, both David Cameron and George Osborne have been convinced of the need to act – and re-examine long-term policy on Heathrow – after being lobbied by overseas leaders and business figures who warn that trade will move elsewhere in the EU unless the airport is expanded.

While the coalition agreement rules out a third runway at Heathrow, which would never be tolerated by the pro-green Liberal Democrats, many Tories now want the party to admit the decision was wrong and back the new runway in the manifesto for the next general election.

In the meantime, however, ministers have ordered officials to examine a series of other options. One is the use of RAF Northolt in Ruislip (see below), north-west London, for business flights, to ease pressure on Heathrow, just 13 miles away. Developing Northolt – and perhaps connecting it to Heathrow with a high speed rail link – would allow the government to avoid accusations of a U-turn as the third runway would then be some distance from the main airport.

Tim Yeo, the Tory chairman of the energy and climate change select committee, said that he had “completely changed” his mind on Heathrow expansion and now believed there was no option but to build a third runway to ensure the south of England remained a worldwide aviation hub.

Reflecting the views of many in his party, he said: “We cannot wait around any longer. We have to get on with this. If we don’t, the Chinese and others will take their business elsewhere. There is no time to delay.”

Yeo, a countryside minister in John Major’s government and a strong environmentalist, said that new EU rules which came into force in January and placed a cap on overall emissions for flights that start or finish in the EU had “changed the argument completely” and given ministers cover to change course.

“If we build a new runway, people can no longer say emissions will soar as there is a cap,” he said. “I think there is a major rethink going on and there needs to be.” He said that plans by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, for a new airport in the Thames estuary, which are also being looked at by ministers, were “too expensive and in the wrong place”.

Another alternative to expansion of Heathrow would be to build a second runway at Gatwick. Cameron provided a strong hint last week that this was on the table. “I’m not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the south-east,” he said. “Gatwick is emerging as a business airport for London under a new owner, competing with Heathrow. No construction work could start at Gatwick until 2019 but this would not stop officials drawing up plans to establish a framework.”  (see below).

In his budget speech on Wednesday, Osborne said that a landmark report on aviation policy, expected this week, had been delayed. Officials said this was to allow the announcement of a “call for evidence” on how the south-east could retain its “hub capacity”.

The delay suggests that ministers are scrambling to formulate a coherent strategy for the future of Britain’s airports and believe that the status quo is not an option.

Nic Ferriday of AirportWatch, which opposes airport expansion, played down the idea of RAF Northolt being used. “The runway would have to be realigned,” he said. “It’s also several miles from Heathrow.” Complex air traffic control issues would have to be overcome.

Initial reports to government on Northolt’s suitability also suggest problems, particularly with the runway length, although changes have not been ruled out.

Any indication that discussions on a third runway at Heathrow could be re-opened would spark a furore – particularly with Lib Dems who would see it as a betrayal of the green cause. Vince Cable, the business secretary, whose Twickenham constituency is on the Heathrow flight path, would oppose it vigorously. Justine Greening, the transport secretary and MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields in south-west London, would also resist a change of policy, having opposed a third runway before the last election.

Other Tories would also be strongly opposed. Speaking at a Guardian “open weekend” on Saturday Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, said he would resign as an MP if the party did a U-turn.

Gareth Thomas, Labour MP for Harrow West, which would be affected by flights into Northolt, said there were clear signs that ministers were rethinking their strategy. “I think the government has to come clean and decide what it is going to do.”

Last month, Heathrow’s China traffic, including Hong Kong flights, fell 0.7%. In 2011, traffic grew 3%, compared with growth of 9% in Paris and Frankfurt. BAA, the airports operator, has campaigned for a third runaway at Heathrow, but its proposals have failed to gain traction.

The government’s climate change committee will publish a report next week outlining the need for the UK to reduce its carbon emissions through a series of incremental cuts until 2050.



And here are a few of the more lighthearted comments below this article:
Give it a few days they’ll probably change their mind again.

Well I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

I really honestly though when Cameron hugged a huskie he meant it.

If you can’t trust a Tory to put the long term future of the planet over short term profits who can you trust?

Boris won’t be pleased

Phew,… confused lot aren’t they?

Sound of another wheel falling off the ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ bandwagon.

So it’s not red tape, it’s not EU legislation, it’s not public sector wages, it’s not the 50 tax rate, it’s the lack of a third runway that’s choking off economic growth! Crikey, glad they found that out before it’s too late. There’s not a chance that it’s the fools in charge is there? ..

Instead of election manifestos, they should just publish the list of party donors. That tells us far more about what their actual policies will be if they win.

There is a foolish argument that goes,

“In order to trade more heavily with Brazil, Russia, India and China, we must be able to fly there at a moment’s notice, for an overnight stay, and get back home as quickly as possible to shag the mistress and put the children to bed for the night.”

This despite the fact that we now have instant mobile VIDEO global telecommunications for the price of a cup of coffee?

RAF Northolt:


RAF Northolt may be sold to raise defence funds

25.1.2012 (Guardian)

The Ministry of Defence is considering selling off one of its oldest and most internationally renowned airfields, RAF Northolt, as it seeks to raise money to help cope with swingeing budget cuts, the Guardian has learned.

All or parts of the site on the outskirts of north London could be sold for commercial development, and there have been high-level talks in Whitehall about whether the airfield could even become a satellite for nearby Heathrow.

This would enrage local residents but it has not been discounted by ministers, who are trying to reconcile the decision not to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow with industry clamour for more capacity.

… and it continues …..




Northolt has been considered before:

8.10.2011  (Telegraph)

“As part of an aviation review, the Government is also looking at proposals to
join the RAF base at Northolt, west London, with Heathrow, also with a high-speed
rail link. Officials close to the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that
both options were being discussed but that there appeared to be more draw-backs
with the Northolt plans as the runway already there was aligned the wrong way
and the base was in the middle of a built up area which threw up more problems
than expanding Heathrow.”



about the crash of a light  aircraft landing at Northolt that landed on the road just outside beyond the runway, hitting a car, in 1996.

“On 13 August 1996, a Bombardier Learjet 25B being operated by a Spanish Air Taxi Operator on a private charter flight from Palma de Mallorca Spain to Northolt made a high speed overrun of the end of the landing runway after an approach in day VMC and collided with traffic on a busy main road after exiting the airport perimeter. All three occupants – the two pilots and one passenger – suffered minor injuries as did the driver of a vehicle hit by the aircraft. ”




13.4.2008  (Times)

“CAA officials were understood to have been concerned about the extra air traffic
at Heathrow and the potential conflict with air traffic from nearby RAF Northolt,
which is regularly used by ministers. In one DfT meeting, officials were told
there was a “conflict of objectives” between expanding commercial activities at
Northolt and the proposed Heathrow expansion.”


Gatwick Airport

From GACC (Gatwick Airport Conservation Campaign)


Because of the constricted topography at Gatwick, any new runway won’t work from an aviation point of view.

See GACC booklet.  Although this was produced in 2003 nothing has changed.

The Runway Issue: