So far, so depressing. The interim recommendations of Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission present a massive missed opportunity.
Here was a chance to lay out a long-term, sustainable plan to meet aviation needs for the UK, particularly based around the needs of London as our capital city, for the next 50 years. Many of us have been optimistic that this was going to be, at last, a serious attempt to do exactly that. Instead we seem to be falling back on the easy old option of using Heathrow as a convenient sticking plaster.
I recognise that this is only an interim report and not the final conclusion, but the direction of travel seems to be heading back to Heathrow.
Yes of course a proposal for Gatwick - which makes a great deal of sense now that Gatwick is in separate ownership – is on the cards, and yes, Boris Johnson’s Isle of Grain proposal still hasn’t been ruled out. But it is very clear that inching every last bit of use out of poor old Heathrow is now the preferred option. My prediction is that if we can’t do better than that and this does go ahead, we’ll be back to the drawing board again after a 3 runway, whenever that might be.
My view has always been that given the difficult location, the inevitable, unacceptable increases in noise and air pollution that would accompany expansion and cause misery to millions more Londoners, and the potentially disastrous effects on London’s road network, further expansion of Heathrow has never been a viable option - these are all important factors which strongly militate against any case that can be made for expansion there.
I have no desire to see Heathrow close – it has a key role to play, but needs to be better rather than bigger. I see no reason why further expansion at Gatwick – or even Stansted which Davies has already ruled out - should not happen and see a future for each of London’s three airports, all offering something slightly different. The incentives are there to improve connectivity between the three airports – all on different sides of the Capital – and this could be a real boon to London if delivered in a thoughtful and imaginative way.
Likewise, it’s also time to start considering other airports outside London – it’s very surprising that Birmingham did not get a mention in the report. MPs, councillors, local businesses and residents in Birmingham are keen to build a bigger aviation presence and given Birmingham’s position right at the centre of the UK, with excellent transport links and the possibility of HS2 making journey times to and from London even faster, surely a regional airport like this deserves consideration? So the fight is not over. It’s just beginning. As I said earlier, this is only an interim report and we still have time to get a better result.
Last April, many of us gathered in Barnes for a Saturday morning rally as we all kicked off the consultation process led by Sir Howard’s commission. I said to the gathering then and I can repeat it now, that I am desperately disappointed that just when we all thought the Heathrow nightmare was finally over following the 2010 election, like a horror film, the monster seems to have resurrected itself. This time, as we start the fight again to protect West London from even more noise and air pollution and traffic congestion, we will need to not only slay the monster, but drive a stake right through its heart.