Heathrow's Third Runway
On Monday afternoon we heard that the decision on whether to expand Heathrow Airport by building a third runway was imminent and that a Government decision would be made this week.
The day's talk seemed to be dominated by the pro-expansion camp, consisting of parties with vested interests, including the unions Unite and GMB who, according to the news, argue that 50,000 jobs would be created with a further 15,000 new jobs upon completion of the project. The pro-expansion group Future Heathrow boast that 72,000 jobs would be created. On their website, Future Heathrow say that a total of 500,000 jobs would be dependent on the expansion of Heathrow and the third runway.
That sounds like the sort of "good news" the public might want to hear in times of an economic crisis where unemployment is rising and people desperately look for jobs. But our question is this: Just how many of those 65,000-72,000 jobs are short-term? How many jobs are tied-up solely during the construction time of the third runway and sixth terminal?
All the vested interests concur that a bigger Heathrow would be for the benefit of the WHOLE of the UK economy and on BBC's Newsnight programme (Monday) Lord Soley, the man heading the coalition for expansion, said that Heathrow was falling behind other major European airports, naming Schipol (Amsterdam), Paris and Frankfurt as threats to Heathrow's position as Europe's number one airport, even having surpassed it already. In his words
Heathrow can either expand or continue its decline.
His point is that because other European airports are expanding then so must Heathrow, supposedly in an effort to stay competitive, or rather dominant, if you read between the lines. Or is that to regain its crown or to at least try and catch up with the other "usurpers"? Afterall, it would be another ten years before the expansion were completed.
In addition further pros for expanding Heathrow namedrop the "integrated transport system" argument, where road and rail all connect up to provide ease of travel between places. You can read Lord Soley's full argument on the matter here.
So this begs further questions: Is there an "arms race" in airport expansion? Obviously the continued or returned dominance of Heathrow is an absolutely paramount goal for those who see financial gain from it but what if other airports continue to expand too and, once again, in the future overtake or merely stay ahead of Heathrow? Will there be a fourth runway? Just how far does this go? How much of Britain's countryside and heritage needs to be tarmac'd over before the expansion stops?
As for the "integrated transport policy" into which Heathrow seems to play such a vital role, why is the onus on planes rather than improving rail? Does this scheme also include expanding motorways by adding extra lanes to cater for an expected rise in road traffic to the bigger airport? Why do railways seem to be so neglected?
This seems to fall in nicely with proposed government policy on public works spending in order to "kick start" the economy again. Widening motorways is seen as a way to a) create quick & easy manual labour jobs and b) relieve road congestion, whereas the real answer is to 1) invest in creating jobs in the emerging green sector and b) make drivers use the slow lane, rather than clogging up the middle and "fast" lanes. That would save public money being spent on unnecessary, not to mention environmentally unfriendly, projects that would have nothing but short-term, short-sighted and low-brow benefits.
So with the weight of over 100 lobbyists, businesses and groups, who all stand to gain financially from, and people in suits arguing the business benefits of the proposal, it looks pretty gloomy for those who wish to protect any history & culture, schools, 2,000 residents, 750 homes and the church with its graveyard at the site of the new runway.
But wait - The Conservative Party are against the third runway, the Lib Dems too, 50 Labour back-benchers and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Greenpeace, WWF and Plane Stupid are also against the development. There are a further four other airports serving London, including Stansted which was invaded in December for its own expansion plans, so why the rush to bulldoze Middlesex?
And then, late in the day, another piece of news comes in; Greenpeace, along with the famous impressionist Alistair McGowan, actress Emma Thomson and Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist, supported by named individual MPs from the three main parties and environmental activist George Monbiot to name a few, announce that they have purchased a football-field sized plot of land right in the path of the new proposed runway!
Any attempts to build the third runway at Heathrow will require that the plot of land is included and the four legal owners are (obviously) firmly against that. Furthermore, there is an opportunity for the public to become "beneficial owners" of the plot, to be included in the legal deed of trust and to be represented should there ever be any legal move to seize the land.
Even with a compulsory purchase order, this move by the concerned citizens will certainly delay efforts of expansion, putting a "spanner in the works", as one person put it. Read about Airplot to see how it works.
Underpinning this whole debate is a small but extremely important detail that I find incredible that nobody seems to be talking about or even paying the slightest bit of attention to: Oil. Will oil prices start going up again? At what rate will oil prices go up? Being a finite resource, when does the oil run out and what are the plans for alternative aviation fuel? If flight expands at the rates some predict, won't that just put further pressure on oil supply, thus increasing demand and driving up price? Will this demand also accelerate the point at which peak oil is reached or are we there already?