A VOW by Conservatives to scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport in favour of a high speed rail link from London to Leeds has been welcomed by anti-expansion campaigners.
HACAN Clearskies was very appreciative of the pledge made at the Tory party conference in Birmingham by Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers, to invest in high-speed rail instead of a third runway at Heathrow.
John Stewart, the Chairman of HACAN, said: "We warmly welcome this announcement. It is a bold plan fitting for the 21st Century."
A study carried out by HACAN in 2006 revealed the potential that exists for high-speed rail to become an alternative to short-haul flights. It showed that over 100,000 flights a year, out of a total of 475,000, serve destinations where rail could become a viable option.Ê
Mr Stewart added: "High-speed rail has the potential to cut the number of short-haul flights using Heathrow, so freeing up space for the more long-distance flights from the fast-developing economies of China and India without the need to expand the airport.
"Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly is muddying the waters when she claimed, as she did last week, that, even with high-speed rail, the number of passengers using Heathrow would soon be back to current levels.
"What she failed to say is that, if there were fewer short-haul flights, it is possible to carry more passengers on a reduced number of flights. Flight numbers is what matters."
There is evidence that the economic benefits of investing in high-speed rail would be much higher than investment in expanding Heathrow. According to Government figures a third runway would generate £5 billion over a 70 year period.
A study by the engineering consultants WS Atkins found that a high-speed rail network linking London and Heathrow to the North of England and the Midlands would bring benefits of more than £30 billion over a 60 year period.
Mr Stewart concluded: "The Conservatives realise that business is not clamouring for a third runway. What they desperately want is a better rather than a bigger Heathrow. This announcement today is good for business, good for the environment and good for local residents."
In response to the pledge a BAA spokesperson said: "BAA believes this country needs both a third runway at Heathrow and high speed rail. To prioritise one over the other is a false choice and will put Britain's future competitiveness at risk.
"It is not clear how this proposal will resolve the lack of airport capacity, a problem which must urgently be addressed.
"The total number of flights to Manchester and Leeds/Bradford is only 13,356 or less than 3% of Heathrow's total flights.
"Even if every flight from Manchester and Leeds/Bradford were replaced by a new high speed rail line then Heathrow would still be operating at 97% of capacity."