It’s Either a Third Runway or No Runway, But Theresa May is on course to do both.
The easiest way to spot a failing campaign is to seek out the one that argues the shortcomings of its opponent rather than championing its own merits.
After years of deliberation, costly enquiries and even costlier marketing ploys the decision on airport capacity in southeast England, or so I’m reliably informed, is nigh. Rumours are that Theresa May will go ahead with expansion at Heathrow and appease the Gatwick campaigners by clearing the way for a second runway in Sussex too, which may be a politically safe manoeuvre but it does little to solve the problem at hand.
It appears that above the environmental protests and lobbying from Conservative peers such as Greening and Goldsmith et al, the party with the most sway has been those on the payroll at Gatwick, and they are campaigning for all the wrong reasons. But let’s start with the case against Heathrow in the shape of a “factsheet” compiled by Richmond Heathrow Campaign.
Richmond Heathrow Campaign argues that Heathrow expansion diverts growth from the rest of the UK and reduces competition, yet to suggest the imbalance of growth in the southeast is uniformly an aviation thing is absurd. They say that new connections to long-haul destinations adds little value to the economy, yet last I heard we had pinned our hopes on being ‘open to the World’ following our decision to leave the EU.
They say that Heathrow reduces the number of inbound tourists to Britain, yet well over half the people that land in southwest London are destined for the capital and no one is suggesting blowing up the other five London airports that cater almost exclusively to this purpose. And they argue that there will be a negligible economic impact or that people won’t use Heathrow because it’s expensive, which clearly is not true. I can sympathise with their point that expansion may not be financially deliverable without substantial State aid, but Crossrail, the biggest infrastructure project to date in Britain, is being delivered on time and on budget, so let’s not kill the girl before she has had chance to live.
— Gatwick Obviously (@LGWobviously) September 19, 2016
They do, however, raise a good point in questioning the value of International-to-International (I-to-I) passengers. According to the fact sheet running just two runways at Heathrow means a reduction in I-to-I transfer passengers which produces a 65 per cent growth in terminating passengers when combined with a 33 per cent increase in passenger capacity. There is little offsetting economic loss to the UK from reduced I-to-I transfer passengers, yet the case to expand airport capacity largely centres around that issue.
— Gatwick Obviously (@LGWobviously) September 16, 2016
If expanding airport capacity in the south east is about catering for more transit passengers, I would happily hand that responsibility to Schiphol or Frankfurt. But cutting the need to expand Heathrow doesn’t make the case for expanding Gatwick. Of course there is more space for expansion an hour outside of London, of course there will be less noise pollution and fewer residential complaints, but the last I heard Gatwick is not full, and without regular domestic and short-haul flights to Europe there won’t be the demand from the airlines to run more flights through it. End of.
As I have said many times before, Heathrow is by far the worst option for airport expansion in London except for all the others. The logical course of action would be to build a third run way or not build at all. Theresa May is on course to do both.
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