Climate-change activists will not be the only ones celebrating the Court of Appeal’s decision to block a new third runway at Heathrow. It saves the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers, from having to make an embarrassing U-turn.
It is a great victory for British Airways owner IAG, which controls an astonishing 51.5 per cent of the take-off and landing slots at the airport and has such a dominant position that Virgin Atlantic and the myriad of other global carriers find it hard to compete.
And for most of the people living under the flightpath, including voters in Johnson’s Tory constituency of Uxbridge and the LibDem strongholds of south-west London, it will be a blessed relief.
But, as a resident of the Richmond Park neighbourhood, who is already woken up in the early hours by the noise of the lumbering jumbo jets arriving from the Far East, followed the red-eye flights from North America, I will not be joining in the celebrations – even though a third runway would increase the number of planes flying above my house.
Climate-change activists will not be the only ones celebrating the Court of Appeal’s decision to block a new third runway at Heathrow
The fact is that, as Britain looks to become more global in the post-Brexit era, it desperately needs more runway capacity in the prosperous south-east if we are not to lose out to foreign rivals.
The success of the economy in recent decades has been supported by a brilliant services sector, which accounts for 71 per cent of our economic output.
Services are about people, not goods, and it is Heathrow’s role in ferrying an army of consultants, lawyers, architects, engineers, academics and digital specialists between Britain and key corners of the business world such as Silicon Valley, which makes it so important.
If this traffic were to be lost to Amsterdam’s Schipol (which has six runways), Frankfurt (four), or Charles de Gaulle in Paris (also four), the economic cost to the UK would be incalculable.
Meanwhile, although much of China is locked down at present because of the coronavirus, it has more than 200 international airports capable of accommodating the very biggest commercial planes.
In 2015, the Airport Commission, headed by City grandee Sir Howard Davies, recommended pressing ahead with a new runway at Heathrow and came up with a higher carbon-pricing formula designed to overcome the objections of the green lobby.
But dither and delay since then by the Cameron and May governments, together with changes in the UK’s carbon emissions targets, gave the activists the upper hand in the Court of Appeal. Heathrow, owned by Spanish construction group Ferrovial and the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and Singapore, plans to take its plans for a third runway to the Supreme Court. But without full government backing, and at a time of new promises to tighten carbon-emission standards, it is hard to see how real progress can be made.