It’s beyond parody. The call by the Free Enterprise Group of MPs for TWO new runways at Heathrow is bad news……for them. To ignore the successful fight that stopped the third runway (http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports.php?id=290) is politically naïve. To spell out a range of destructive options for a fourth runway is bordering on political suicide. It will simply result in a myriad of communities being up in arms.
It reminds me of the disastrous mistake the then Roads Minister Peter Bottomley made in the 1980s. He publicised all the options for new roads across London. It resulted in 250 local groups banding together under the umbrella of All London against the Road Building Menace (ALARM). Just a few years later, in 1990, the Government was forced to abandon all the road schemes (http://www.roadblock.org.uk/alarmuk/roadblock.pdf).
Yet, people like Spelthorne MP Kwasi Kwarteng, a leading figure in the Group and author of the report on which the proposals are based, are not stupid. So why are they doing this? I suspect that most of them know their current proposals are folly. If they don’t, they are not living in the real world. Any attempt to build two new runways at Heathrow would result in the defining environmental battle of our time. Even if the thousands of people who stood to lose their homes and businesses meekly accepted generous compensation packages, the amount of opposition the proposals would generate would be enormous: hundreds of thousands of residents under the flight paths, climate activists, environmentalist from across Europe, anarchists of every hue…….the resulting campaign would make Occupy St Pauls look like a sedate church service on a quiet Sunday morning. Surrey ladies would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the children of Swampy.
It would be the campaign against the third runway writ large. Ian Martin, writing in the Daily Telegraph (1/04/08), said of that campaign quote “There is an anger and a rebellion that runs from eco-warriors through to merchant bankers.” No government could contemplate two new runways at Heathrow.
So what are the Free Enterprise MPs up to? Their proposals are so off the wall it is difficult to be certain as to their motive. They do seem to be trying to show that Heathrow, even with two new runways, is a cheaper option than an Estuary Airport. Many of the MPs are close to business and are probably reflecting the views of the many businesses who don’t want to see Heathrow replace by an Estuary Airport.
But they are probably also using their report to make a business case for airport expansion per se. Their aim is to create a climate of opinion where it becomes generally accepted that expansion is required; the only question that remains to be answered is where? They seem to challenging the Transport Secretary: “If not a Heathrow, where will expansion take place, Justine?”
Justine Greening, the most informed Transport Secretary on aviation for a generation, is sticking to her guns. She first wants evidence-based responses on whether more capacity is needed and, if so, how much would be required long before looking at the question of where is should be. These proposals from the Free Enterprise Group are a parody of the sort of evidence-based arguments Justine Greening is looking for.