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.”
Simon Jenkins: Don’t buy the idea that Heathrow expansion is ‘good for the nation’
SIMON JENKINS – Comment. (Evening Standard)
Tuesday 10 November 2015
Simon Jenkins writes, tongue in cheek: “London is a terrible city for helicopters. International businessmen vital to the economy are dumped in Battersea. How can a global financial centre tolerate it? London must move into the 21st century. It must have a heliport near its centre.
“The obvious place is in Hyde Park, near the Serpentine. It could take an aircraft movement every five minutes. It is just a boring bit of park, much of the year now used for commercial exhibitions and concerts. Nimbys should get real. Helicopters are about jobs, money and how to be a top city. London’s whole economic security depends on a Hyde Park heliport.”
That is precisely the level of the argument for a third runway at Heathrow, on which a Government decision is said to be imminent. We may as well start at the beginning. It should be unthinkable in the aforementioned 21st century to inflict the noise, pollution and congestion of modern airplanes in a built-up area. Just forget it. New York, Paris, Moscow and Hong Kong don’t do it. Heathrow was only allowed to grow because gutless ministers dared not stand up to the airlines lobby.
The noise footprint over west London is already intolerable. Did no one from the pro-Heathrow Davies commission go and sit under it? In addition, we are only now starting to understand the health impact of exhaust poisons. Congestion on the roads into west London is equally bad. Endless pledges from the airlines of new, clean and silent planes are never delivered.
This has nothing to do with economics. The number of “businessmen” who really need to travel internationally is relatively small. A mere 30 per cent of Heathrow passengers are classed as business — it’s 20 per cent at Stansted and 18 per cent at Gatwick. I guess half these journeys are really perks. Every time you hear a Heathrow lobbyist plead that an extra runway would “generate up to £147 billion” or is “vital as a business hub”, blow a raspberry. It would probably be cheaper to provide every real businessman with a private jet into London City Airport or Northolt.
Heathrow is primarily for leisure travel, and that travel is overwhelmingly outbound. A new Heathrow runway is an aid to the foreign tourist industry, and as such is a bad trade deal and a disincentive to domestic tourism.
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. More people want motorways but we do not build them. More people want houses. We can predict, but then we must plan how to respond. Demand is not God.
Air travel is overwhelmingly leisure travel, a modern luxury that needs no subsidy nor deserves planning privilege.
Of course getting to Gatwick and Stansted (not to mention Luton and points north) is inconvenient for travellers but so is noise and pollution to those living near Heathrow. Nor would there be overcrowding at Heathrow if flights to leisure and domestic destinations were moved elsewhere. Such regulation would boost provincial airports and northern powerhouses. Nor is being “a European hub” essential to London. It is just profitable to airports.
The case for Heathrow ran out of steam long ago, and relies on crude politics. David Cameron remains stymied by having pledged to stop the third runway, “no ifs and buts”. Recent post-VW publicity for noxious fumes has added to the “health cost” of Heathrow — or, one could say, the death cost.
Then last summer Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, stunned his Heathrow allies by deserting them on the grounds of cost. A new runway would mean a 50 per cent rise in landing fees for IAG’s passengers. “We didn’t ask for it and we’re not paying for it,” he said. I assume Walsh has worked out that the present Heathrow suits him fine, while opening it up to new competition would not.
Back in the Eighties the British government took its only bold decision on London airports in history. It built Stansted as the “third London airport”. It was to be the big future, located between London’s silicon roundabout and Cambridge’s silicon fen. All it lacked was a decent express train service to London. Since it did not get one, Stansted sits unpopular and half empty.
As recently as 2008 the British Airports Authority actually got the message on Heathrow, and proposed a radical plan to upgrade Stansted to the capacity of Heathrow. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown killed the idea dead by handing Stansted over to Manchester airport to run. A furious BAA said, in that case, it would lobby for a bigger Heathrow. The whole saga has been idiotic and wasteful, modern British government at its most incompetent.
A simple decision would be for Cameron to restore growth at Stansted and build a proper rail link. Or he could let Gatwick expand to become the premier tourism “hub”, though the future of air travel is said to lie in point-to-point journeys, not hubs.
Either way, 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.
I have no trouble with corporations and capitalism but they must be subordinate to an overriding public interest and not mere money-chasing.
Heathrow lobbyists can pretend that “what is good for Heathrow is good for the nation”. They can spout nonsense about helping exports and being the best in Europe. We just need to keep calm and remember, they are in it for the money. All else is hogwash.