Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heathrow, A Runaway Runway Sham

Expect some delays but no cancellations as plans to further expand Heathrow come under the Commons spotlight. The government is still singing from the old boom years hymn sheet. Now the bubble has burst it's time to rethink the Heathrow monster. But that won't get in the way of a powerful lobby and short-sighted government.

Cheaper transatlantic air travel and the unhealthy emphasis on the City as the savour of the economy led the way for a huge European airport hub based at Heathrow. 

Expansion continued at a pace with a motorway infrastructure and new T5 as the government put all its eggs in the one basket, despite real environmental concerns. 

Heathrow isn't just huge, it's grotesque. Full to the brim and running on such a tight schedule, the slightest problem throws an huge spanner in the works and the whole beast grinds to a halt. A third runway will only add to the problem. 

A report commissioned by the City of London Authority claimed without more flights to reduce airport problems that could threaten the City. 

But in a few years time, that could be a road to nowhere as the world's financial centres continue to switch to the Far East. 

Heathrow is being developed purely for the lucrative transatlantic trade and business traffic in particular. An expanded Heathrow will require the huge Cross Rail investment direct to the City. And that requires billions of pounds more to be spent on dodgy financial deals.

The Orange Party doesn't believe any further Heathrow expansion is necessary at all. High speed rail links in and out of the Capital would be a better, realistic solution. 

But if there's an argument for a big London based European hub - then Heathrow is not the answer. 

Business leaders say thousands of jobs rely on Heathrow expansion. Jobs sure, but they don't need to be created at Heathrow. 

Heathrow is indeed "deeply unpopular" and many are fed up with delays, airport traffic and heavy security. But that doesn't mean a third runway is the "obvious" solution. 

The way forward is the credible Thames Gateway, argued so well by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and with a mighty crusading effort by the Sunday Times. Apparently there's a proven working off the shelf model just waiting to be dropped in the Thames estuary at a fraction of the cost. 

But powerful lobby forces are at work here. BAA's Spanish owners, Ferrovial, may be trying to shed other airports but Heathrow is the overcrowded and lucrative jewel in the crown. It's main customer, British Airways is trying to sew up transatlantic trade. The whole issue of environmental impact has been spun away and buried. 

Conservatives, LibDems, many true Labour MPs and the London mayor all oppose plans for a third runway. 

MPs have a chance to voice their opposition today with a refreshingly alliance of often opposing political views. But that won't sway a pigheaded government bent on getting its own way with a powerful Heathrow lobby pushing behind the scenes. Conservatives have branded talk of consultation "a complete sham".

Transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, is expected to overrule MPs and say Heathrow should get a third runway. And what the government wants, Hoon will make sure the government gets, regardless of the arguments stacked up against them. 

Already expansion at Heathrow seems to be a foregone conclusion. The government's proposed new planning laws and planning quango will see to that and neatly side-step any objections. 

Heathrow and its further expansion is just one of the crippling legacies of those blooming booming years. Once again we are being forced to live with that legacy until the government catches up with the times.

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