Louise Ellman

I don’t know Louise Ellman personally.  The only time we have spoken is when I gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee last year.  But it surprises and disturbs me that, as chair of the committee, she can write – or at least put her name to – an article of such stunningly poor quality as appeared in Politics Home on Friday.

Let’s look at its low-lights.

Ellman starts: “For half a century, Britain has been paying an increasingly high economic and social price for the failure of successive governments to take decisions about how to expand London’s airports”.  

Come on, Louise!  For 50 years?  Since1963?  The year you turned 18; when I was a boy in short trousers; and Harold Wilson was still 12 months away from becoming Prime Minister for the first time.

More significantly, in 1963 Southampton was more probably important than Heathrow; ocean liners, not aircraft, were the mode of transport for inter-continental journeys.  Just four years earlier my dad, who had been teaching in Zimbabwe, retuned to the UK by ship.  He never considered the plane as an option.  Indeed, I don’t think he flew in his entire life. 

Let’s glance at the state of aviation in 1963.  Heathrow ruled the European roost even then.  This from Wikipedia: “In 1961 Frankfurt already had 2.2 million passengers and 81,000 take-offs and landings, making it the second busiest airport in Europe behind London Heathrow (my emphasis).” 

Charles de Gaulle was but a glimmer in the planners’ eyes.  It didn’t open until 1974.  But perhaps it’s Schiphol Louise had in mind.  1963 was the year the construction of the current airport began, to be opened in 1967 by HM Queen Juliana

Ellman’s gushing prose continues:  “Heathrow has been full for a decade.  This means that the UK has started to lose out to rival hubs in e.g. Paris, Frankfurt and Schipol.”

Her first sentence is simply wrong.  Heathrow’s runways are operating at about 99% capacity but it has the terminal capacity to cater for another 20 million passengers a year.  More passengers using larger planes remains an option for Heathrow Airport.

Ellman does acknowledge that our existing links with well-established markets are excellent.  She fails, though, to point out that this makes London the top city in Europe in which to do business.  Global property consultants Cushman & Wakefield’s 2011 The European Cities Monitor found London topped the league for the 22nd year out of 22. Cushman & Wakefield commented: “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as the leading city in which to do business. Paris and Frankfurt remain in second and third place respectively.”   London retained it position in 2012.

Ellman gushes on…..about Let Britain Fly: “The Campaign, which was launched last week, is the biggest and most influential business-led campaign ever created to address the issue of airport expansion. I was delighted to take part in the Launch and offer my strong support”.

It may be or may not be the biggest but to argue it is the “most influential” just weeks after it has been formed is, frankly, nonsensical.  Both Louise and I are both of an age to remember the early days of the Beatles (1961 I think it was – the era when Heathrow was allegedly already falling behind other European airports).  To have argued the they were the “most influential” band when they started out in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, a city Ellman has served conscientiously over the years, would have been meaningless.  They became influential.  Let Britain Fly might become influential.  Or it might crash land like it predecessor bodies:  Flying Matters and Freedom to Fly.  Her breathless prose doesn’t allow for that eventuality. 

The gush reaches its apex:  “Last week saw what I believe will prove to be a defining moment in the campaign to restore the UK’s pivotal status in the global aviation industry”.

Wow!  Breathless stuff Louise!  Pity is it would be better coming from a Mills and Boon writer of romantic fiction than the chair of Parliament’s Transport Select Committee. 

There is a debate to be had about future capacity needs.  There are serious discussions taking place in different fora a around the country.  It is a debate that HACAN seeks to take part in constructively.

But let’s debate on reasoned arguments rather than breathless prose; on factual statements; not bland assertions.  Mills and Boon has no place in this debate.

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