Heathrow Airport has been firmly back in the spotlight after Sir Howard Davies recently announced his interim report in to airport expansion in the south of England.
Three options have been put on the table – A new runway to the North West of the existing airport, an extension of the Northern runway to the west (Allowing it to operate as two separate runways) or a second runway at Gatwick. Sir Howard has also committed to reviewing his decision to rule out an airport in the Thames Estuary, the so-called ‘Boris Island’, later this year – This seems unlikely to make the shortlist.
A Political hot potato
The threat of a third runway at Heathrow is not new – The Blair government were committed to the project, but local residents won out through dedicated and active campaign groups such as NOTRAG and HACAN, with support and assistance from local Labour MP John McDonnell. The people of Hillingdon spoke loudly and were heard – Yet the spectre has come back once again.
So, where do the politicians nationally stand on the issue of expansion?
David Cameron promised that there would be no new runways during the duration of this parliament, which comes to an end in May next year. Interestingly enough, Sir Howard Davies was reported as saying this week that he could have delivered a full report on a shorter timetable but had been asked to delay his findings by the coalition government.(Source – Daily Telegraph)
With Chancellor George Osborne known to be a supporter of Heathrow expansion, could this be a ‘fudge’ so that a policy that could harm Tory re-election prospects is kicked in to the long grass? It would also be massively unpopular with at least two Tory MP’s whose constituencies would suffer in Zac Goldsmith and Adam Afriyie, both of whom have been consistent in their opposition to the third runway.
London mayor Boris Johnson has been very vocal in demanding a completely new airport in the Thames Estuary, and attacked both the Davies Commission and the Commons Transport Committee in very strong terms for ruling it out recently, criticism that resulted in Davies using the term ‘vulgar abuse’. Expect more toys to be thrown out of the pram if Boris doesn’t get his own way with his unaffordable and impractical vanity project going forward.
The original proponents of the third runway, they have officially dropped the idea and are thought to favour new runways at Gatwick or Stansted according to HACAN. (This would make sense, as neither are traditional Labour areas and in theory it would not be too damaging to them nationally at the ballot box)
However, shadow chancellor Ed Balls is known to favour Heathrow expansion and two key union backers in the GMB and Unite have both publicly backed it. Leader Ed Miliband was vehemently against during the final term of the last Labour government, but his stance appears to have softened with a recent statement that he has ‘yet to be convinced’ of the case for Heathrow expansion. Maybe the threat of the withdrawal of Len McCluskey’s wallet may ‘convince’ him in the coming months, although again he will be painfully aware that an unpopular policy could bite at the General Election.
Local Hayes & Harlington MP John McDonnell (Above) is a vociferous opponent of Heathrow expansion, which could put him once again on a collision course with party command should the union bosses get their way.
Opposed to all airport expansion in their 2010 general election manifesto, leader Nick Clegg recently indicated on his LBC radio phone in show that the position may have changed and he could be in favour of a second runway at Gatwick. Party heavyweight Vince Cable remains firmly opposed to Heathrow expansion, which would directly affect his South London constituency
Clegg backed up his statement by saying that Davies sees more growth in point to point flights rather than long distance ‘hub’ solutions, which puts him at odds with his own coalition partners who have stated on numerous occasions that the lack of a ‘superhub airport’ is damaging to our trade with emerging industrial powerhouses such as India, China and Brazil.
Totally against all airport expansion (Unsurprisingly) – No ‘plan B’ if it is shown that there is demand for additional flights.
Working together locally to stop the third runway
Shortly after the Interim announcement, local meetings were convened to rally support against the third runway.
UKIP Hillingdon postponed our event and attended a non-aligned meeting with cross organisational support in Harlington on 16th January organised by John McDonnell.
Nearly 100 people turned out on a wind and rain swept evening to hear speeches and swap ideas with John Randall MP, NOTRAG’s Christine Taylor and a very late arriving John McDonnell, who had been caught in traffic and initially relayed information to the meeting via phone through his assistant Helen Lowder (Below – I myself arrived over half an hour late due to a combination of work and a serious accident on the M4)
Noise, pollution and blight were all subjects that were high in the minds of the local residents at the meeting, with questions surrounding the ability of the existing road and rail infrastructure to cope with more people arriving on flights also aired. Our Heathrow Villages spokesman, Bryan, also pointed out to Mr McDonnell the Ed Balls support for Heathrow which elicited a response of “Leave Ed Balls to me” – I would pay good money to be a fly on the wall when that conversation takes place!
I myself made 2 points to the meeting – Firstly, that many residents in London who are not currently affected by noise from Heathrow will be should the expansion go ahead, and those communities and their MP’s need to be made very aware of it. (It would appear that some of the activists at the event are already working on this)
Secondly, in response to a gentleman talking about the roads disruption and the possible closure of the M25 during construction work causing massive delays and extra pollution – If the third runway goes ahead, then a spur will be run from the proposed HS2 high speed rail line to the airport, most likely running through West Drayton and Iver. This makes the two projects symbiotic – An HS2 link is already listed on the third runway plans, so this project going ahead gives extra weight to the campaign to build this monstrous and unnecessary rail project. Likewise, if HS2 goes ahead then part of the economic case for third runway will be that a high speed rail line exists close to the airport already that is relatively easy to hook up and therefore Heathrow has ‘superior transport links’ over it’s competitors in the airport expansion stakes.
John McDonnell replied that he is for high speed rail (Hardly surprising as he is the RMT union’s parliamentary spokesman) but voted against HS2, and was not aware of any current plans as to where a proposed Heathrow HS2 spur would go. I offered to share with him the draft plans that had been seen by some of the Stop HS2 campaigners – These can be seen on the following link at the bottom of the page
It was generally agreed that we all need to work together to stop Heathrow expansion irrespective of our political allegiances, which made the report that came in from the council meeting that night almost surreal
Hillingdon Council backs Heathrow Closure
The local Labour opposition group on the council proposed a motion for a ‘better, not bigger, Heathrow’ – Essentially, to oppose the Third runway whilst working to make sure that jobs are not lost by a gradual rundown of the existing airport.
Rather than discussing the proposal, which on the face of it seems reasonable, the ruling Conservative Group unanimously voted to close the airport – Council leader Ray Puddifoot’s (Pictured left)’Third Way’ as reported by Jack Griffith in our local Gazette.
After hearing of the council meeting, my UKIP Hillingdon colleague Jack Duffin received the below tweet from Tory Cllr Dominic Gilham after he enquired as to what was going on
“Heathrow have said without expansion it will close, so it’s a clear choice What do you support as do nothing is not an option?”
A strange tweet, but also quite revealing – Cllr Gilham is essentially saying that unless you expand Heathrow it has to close, a tactic that the airport has been using to try and bully the third runway through.
This also poses the question – Do the council really want expansion and the closure threat is their way of justifying a potential change of heart should a 3rd runway be Tory policy AFTER the general election and in line with the full report from The Davies Commission? If so, this is a very risky strategy – Heathrow Airport Ltd’s Colin Matthews has already stated live on LBC radio to claims that a third runway would be inadequate and a fourth would need to be built immediately after it’s completion that they will do that if required.
Alternatively, with Cllr Puddifoot already having stated in the press previously that he was comfortable with Heathrow closure, are they jockeying to assist Boris Johnson’s Estuary airport and the Mayor’s vision for a high tec based ‘London Borough of Heathrow’? With David Cameron unlikely to survive as Tory leader should they not win the next general election outright, is this an attempt to curry favour with one of his potential replacements?
Either way, the council and indeed their national party should state what their position is and stop playing politics with people’s lives.
We have already seen the council quite rightly opposing the HS2 rail project whilst their national party is recklessly pushing ahead with it – Our two local Tory MP’s, John Randall and Nick Hurd, voted FOR the paving bill that enables money to be allocated to pay for the railway, a clear case of a muddled message that leaves Hillingdon residents unsure of which way their public representatives will react at any given time to their concerns.
As was stated at the public meeting in Harlington, everyone needs to work together to confront and stop Heathrow expansion – We have offered to print leaflets and publicise the upcoming West Drayton third runway meeting that John McDonnell is organising along with our own event in February, which both he and John Randall have been invited to attend (Which they have declined, in John Randalls’ case due to a prior engagement)
It would also be helpful if the major political parties got off of the fence and stated what their intentions are towards airport expansion in the south east and stop hiding behind a delayed report – To start the ball rolling, below is the UKIP policy on aviation in the South of England
UKIP’s alternative to the Third Runway
UKIP opposes a third runway at Heathrow – The infrastructure surrounding the airport will not support the additional traffic and the environmental concerns regarding air quality and noise need to be listened to.
The public in the surrounding borough’s have made their voices heard and are against – It is time for the politicians to listen to the people.
Likewise, we are not convinced of the need for a ‘super hub’ airport similar to those in Holland, France and Germany. A comparable city to London is New York, which operates with two hub airports (JFK and Newark), a large domestic flights airport (La Guardia) and smaller business airports such as Teterboro.
We are well placed to operate a similar system in the South of England already, with Heathrow operating as one of the two hub airports with it’s existing runways, whilst a combination of Gatwick, Luton and Stansted can cover short haul ‘point to point’ services in the way LaGuardia covers US domestic flights. The business jet community is also well served by London City, Biggin Hill and Farnborough.
Our solution is to develop the existing airport at Manston in Kent (Kent International) as a second, complimentary hub to assist Heathrow.
Manston has the second largest runway in the UK, and can already accommodate the largest airliners including the Airbus A380 (Pictured above). Indeed, it is a designated divert airfield for both Heathrow and Gatwick in the event of problems and has a high level of available safety equipment – BA already use it as a training facility for their pilots.
No demolition of houses would need to be undertaken as would be the case with Heathrow expansion, plus the pollution and noise aspects would be minimised by flightpaths that come in over the channel. The local council are in favour of the project as it would bring much needed jobs to the area (Whilst leaving Heathrow to operate in West London and preserve those jobs that already exist for the communities in Hillingdon and Hounslow)
Expansion of Manston would be far less expensive than the alternatives – With the runway already in place (Plus wide enough that side by side landings would be possible at a future date with minor modifications if demand increased drastically), the only major infrastructure upgrades required would be a revamp of the terminal buildings and links to existing road and rail infrastructure.
A spur line to the existing HS1 channel tunnel rail line, which operates currently at less than 50% capacity, would enable international travellers to be in the heart of London in 40 minutes and give a much needed boost to a loss making service. It would also open up the possibility of international travellers using Manston as a gateway to the channel ports, re-invigorating communities. Indeed, with the City of London being a main economic driver for our country, it could be argued that an additional airport to the east of London would be a better way to service the city than making people disembark at Heathrow and then have to fight their way through central London to go eastwards from Paddington.
Likewise, links to both the M2 and A2 road network can be achieved relatively quickly and would enable comparatively easy access to London and the South East.
(It is also worth pointing out that a ‘hub’ airport exists to take passengers from long haul international flights and transfer them to short haul flights for the domestic or European final leg of their journey – To this end, it does not matter where the second hub is placed for this particular part of the airport function, as passengers will only be travelling within the terminals and will not need additional transport infrastructure outside of the confines of the airfield.)
We would also look at the issue of ‘grandfather rights’ at Heathrow – Currently, the runways are operating at 98% capacity but the terminals are operating way below that, in the main caused by airlines with historic slot allocations filling them with empty or almost empty aircraft to deny rivals the ability to land. Making Heathrow more efficient would also have a positive knock on effect for employment in the boroughs surrounding the airport.
You can help to stop the third runway
If you are concerned about the impact of Heathrow expansion, please help spread the word.
There are a number of groups organising against the proposals – I have attached links below if you would like to get in touch, or you can contact us at www.ukiphillingdon.com