Despite David Cameron’s promise (‘no ifs, no buts, no 3rd runway’) and her own opposition to Heathrow expansion, Theresa May today gave a provisional go-ahead for a 3rd runway to be built at Heathrow.
The current two runways cause 28% of severe noise nuisance created by ALL European airports. A 3rd will increase flight numbers by 50% and, importantly for Hammersmith residents who have previously escaped the worst noise, the alignment is directly above Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, and these will be some of the worst affected areas.
There will be a lot more to say and do about this decision in the coming months and years, for today I limit my comments to three points.
This is a bad decision. Most of the thinking about airport expansion in the south-east is out of date. Ten years ago hub airports were thought of as the future, and Heathrow was the only widely-touted option for expansion – unsurprisingly as Heathrow then owned Gatwick and Stansted and played down their potential.
Now the economic and logistical case between Heathrow and Gatwick is marginal, the cost to the taxpayer is nil at Gatwick versus £15 billion plus at Heathrow and the downsides of Heathrow – not just noise but air quality, congestion and safety – hugely outweigh any plus factors.
Unfortunately the public discourse has not caught up with this reality. We must see that it does before Parliament makes its decision in about a year’s time.
This is a reversible decision. The risk of the 3rd runway not being built is great; and the risk of it not happening for many years is a certainty. The financing, complexity of construction, and above all the strength of opposition means this is a project going nowhere for the foreseeable future, with several years of legal action likely after two years of formal decision-making.
My experience over the past 30 years is that bad planning decisions often either get overturned or take so long to come to fruition that their sponsors are forced to abandon them. I can see this happening with Charing Cross Hospital and the redevelopment of West Kensington, and even more so with Heathrow.
This is a political decision. Not in a Party sense as there are divisions within both main Parties, but in the sense that pressure from powerful interests can force the hand of Government. With May, Hammond and Johnson all on the record as opposing a 3rd runway, the decision should have been different. It is an early indication (along with Hinckley C) that Mrs May is not in control of her own Government.
The vote in Parliament has been put off for a year – perhaps to save the blushes of Boris, Justine Greening, Greg Hands and all the other ministers who should be standing up for their constituents. But it gives time to build opposition. For many MPs not directly affected, this is a marginal decision. Our job over the next 12 months is to persuade them to do the right thing.
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith