Saturday, November 01, 2008

The case for Heathrow's third runway doesn't make sense, opposing it does

Gordon Brown has decided that the third runway at Heathrow will go ahead despite the fact that virtually everyone who lives in the area opposes it. That's modern democracy for you.

My opposition to the runway is based, admittedly, on nimbyism - although, in my opinion, very justifiably. Living on the Heathrow flightpath as I do I'm well used to the virtual non-stop aircraft noise over my house. It is so regular that I can not see how they can increase it without compromising safety in some way. The air space over this part of England is already over crowded and more runways will mean more over crowding. Air traffic control technology may ave improved but human error is still as likely as ever and it is only a matter of time before something happens.

Apart from all that, I don't think the case for a third runway has been made. Claims that companies like Microsoft will leave the UK if there is no expansion are false and alarmist. There are many considerations companies will make when deciding where to open (or close) an office - and one of the least important is whether the airport is really busy.

Secondly, people fly into the UK only if they have business in the UK. Even if Microsoft moved out of the UK (which they wouldn't entirely) they'd still have to do have people fly into the country if they want to do business here - and it's not as if there aren't enough flights anyway. Many flights from USA to UK are half empty.

Thirdly, if they want to fly into the UK, why do they have to fly into Heathrow? There are plenty of other airports around. Microsoft is located near Reading - 30 miles from Heathrow. It is just as easy to get to from Stansted or Birmingham International (probably easier some times).

All they will do by building a third runway at Heathrow is entrench the concentration of business in the South East of England and London in particular even more. What we actually want, if anything, is to encourage these businesses to set up in other parts of the UK. It would make much more sense to improve facilities in the South West, Midlands and North of England than it would to encourage more and more businesses to set up in London (which is already over crowded, over congested and over concreted).

There is NO case for a third runway at Heathrow. It isn't necessary and it certainly isn't desirable - but the government plan to do it anyway even though most people aren't convinced by it. I don't know why, but I do know that it isn't because that is what is best for Britain.


Anonymous said...

Airports are important for modern economies. Our competitors in countries like Holland and France have already constructed impressive major hub airports. Britain has a hemmed-in saturated Heathrow region which nevertheless already has good established transport infrastructure links to central London. By building more runways at Stansted or the Midlands just further dilutes UK aviation competitiveness in comparison to foregn rivals.

An expansion of a third runway at Heathrow is hardly ideal as you very correctly identify; however, it is the best of bad job if one looks at alternative options.

The UK is dangerously over-focussed on commerical activities in London, with financial services being a major former money earner for the UK. However, it is a brave person to take the focus away from London, for fear of derailing the whole UK economy generally.

The UK Government has probably taken the optimal decision by letting the third runway be built at Heathrow. It is not ideal but at least provides a chance of matching Charles de Gaul Frnakfurt, and Schipol international airports.
However, the decision is as aforesaid the best of bad job because Haethrow is not an optimal setting for such a third runway. However, Heathrow does have good infrastructure communication to central London.

Gordon Brown is a wise man trying to make decisions in very difficult circumstances. He deserves some sympathy.

I just hope hydrogen planes and low-noise planes with above-wing mounted engines come soon to reduce the noise and pollution effects from such a third runway.

Best regards

Stan said...

"Airports are important for modern economies. Our competitors in countries like Holland and France have already constructed impressive major hub airports."

I know this is the argument put forward, but it doesn't hold water. I'd argue that neither Schipol nor CDG are impressive - certainly not CDG which is almost as much of a hellhole as Heathrow - but the assumption is that having a great airport will attract inward investment. This is bollocks - what attracts inward investment is having a low tax, minimal regulation economy.

There is no significant economic benefit to be gained by increasing the traffic through Heathrow - and the truth is that continental travel for business is set to decline over the next 10-20 years as communications improve. All major corporations are looking to reduce their costs in any way they can and one of the easiest ways to do that is to cut down on international travel. Once ultra high speed (and cheap) internet communication is established as the norm virtually no one will travel for business.