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.
This lack of government leadership is shameful. At the very time it is vital to demonstrate that Britain is determined to invest in its global future after Brexit, we are doing the reverse by washing our hands of the third runway.
A computer generated image released by Heathrow airport on June 18, 2019 shows what the airport will look like in 2050 following the completion of a third runway and new terminals
The Government should absolutely be supporting Heathrow in its appeal. What kind of message, otherwise, is it sending out to the world? As anyone who uses Heathrow knows, the airport – which handled 65million passengers last year – is already full to the gunwales.
Capacity constraint leads to higher emissions per flight, not lower. It also means that London’s role as a hub for global traffic, with all the commerce that brings with it, is seriously hampered.
What few people realise is that Heathrow is enormously important for freight and exports. In terms of value, it is the UK’s biggest port for global markets excluding the EU and Switzerland, and handles 33 per cent of Britain’s exports to very fast-growing international markets which are at the heart of ‘global Britain’.
Marks & Spencer, for instance, supplies its franchise operators in Hong Kong with several jumbo-jet flights a week of fresh sandwiches and produce. What happens when capacity shortages prevents it – and other exporters – from doing so? They will go to other airports.
Heathrow says the third runway would be worth billions of pounds in exports.
The battle over London’s vital global transport hub is a sharp reminder of how the economic costs of a green agenda threaten the prosperity of the nation. Uncomfortable as the noise and pollution is for people like me living under the flightpath, the greater public good would be served by a new runway.
Moreover, the arrival of lighter, less polluting aircraft should, over time, substantially reduce noise and emissions.
By blocking the new runway, the Government and the courts have engaged in an act of self-harm which I fear could make us all poorer.