Well done for sticking with this blog post past the inspiring title. If you are reading this far, you must be a true fan, a transportation policy anorak or my mother. In any case, thank you very much!
This post is in response to a piece in the Daily Telegraph entitled “David Cameron says Britain needs bigger airport for London”:
The Prime Minister said he had “an open mind” about all possible proposals, even though the Coalition has previously ruled out building a third runway at Heathrow.
In particular, ministers will carefully consider the proposal by Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, to build a completely new airport in the Thames estuary.
However, Mr Cameron said there were still “a range of options and possibilities”, raising speculation an expansion of Heathrow could come back on to the table in the next parliament.
“I’m not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the south-east,” he said. “”We need to retain our status as a key global hub for air travel, not just a feeder route to bigger airports elsewhere, in Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Dubai.
Now hold on just one second.
The Conservative party campaigned at the last election on a manifesto commitment to oppose the building of an additional runway at Heathrow Airport, the capital’s main hub airport. I thought that was a stupid, counterproductive idea designed to pander to the less thinking green vote then, and I think it’s a stupid, counterproductive idea designed to pander to the less thinking green vote now.
So imagine my surprise to learn that ministers are seriously considering the even more hare-brained idea by London Mayor Boris Johnson to build an entirely new, huge airport in the Thames estuary. Seriously? After goodness knows how much time and effort and money (both public and private) was pumped into building Terminal 5 at Heathrow, and sprucing up the remaining terminals in time for the London Olympics? You are seriously telling me that you now want to build a new airport for London.
Well, London is of course chronically underserved in terms of locations where you can jump on a plane. I mean, basically commercial passengers are limited to:
London Oxford (apparently that’s what they call it now)
London Shetland Islands
Okay, so the last two were made up. But seriously? Another airport?
Sometimes I read the news and I actually think that maybe I’m just irretrievably stupid, that maybe the government sees the world rationally and clearly and that my brain is just not developed enough to comprehend the logical, simple beauty behind their policy proposals. Because how else could such a seemingly dumb idea be suggested?
Firstly. Cities reap the biggest benefit from air transport when they have a single big, hub airport. Having lots of semi-hub airports jockeying for position doesn’t do nearly so much good. If I’m coming from the United States and flying to India, it is awkward enough to have to stop over at London Heathrow and enjoy their hospitality while I wait for my connection. If I now have to clear customs at Heathrow and then take an airport shuttle bus or rail link to London Thames Estuary or London Middle Of Nowhere to make my connection, I will be even less inclined to transit through Heathrow. The airport loses potential revenue, and the government loses the criminal levels of air passenger duty that they charge whenever you try to flee this rainy island.
Secondly. Environmentalists didn’t want an additional runway at Heathrow Airport, even though that airport is stretched to capacity. How much happier will they be with an entirely new airport and the additional footprint that it would require with scare land available? The answer – less happy, believe it or not! As the Telegraph article states:
“In a letter to The Daily Telegraph on Monday, a group of Conservatives joined forces with Professor Germaine Greer and politicians from all parties to claim the airport would destroy an area used by 300,000 migrating birds every year.”
So having pandered to the environmentalists at the last election despite their doubts about your sincerity, you are now going to prove them right by not only reneging on your pledge about the new runway, but rubbing a whole new massive hub airport in their faces instead? Smart move!
Thirdly. Does this airport replace Heathrow, or Gatwick? Or Stansted? Or any of the others? If not, how do we build links to connect this new hub airport with the seventeen existing ones, and handle the fact that passengers will be cris-crossing the capital trying to make distant flight connections even more than they have to already? If yes, what do we do with vast amount of capital and buildings and equipment and land at the existing sites? Turn them into museums? Shared housing for low-income families? Huge skate parks? Desolate, crime-ridden brownfield sites? (Yes). And how do we convince the owners of these airports, all of whom are in the private sector, to sell out and close down operations against their interests to allow the new airport to flourish?
In short: did anyone, anyone at all think through the implications of this eye-blisteringly stupid idea for even one milisecond before calling a press conference, opening their smug, greasy cakeholes and proclaiming this policy reversal? Anyone?
These same people have control of our national economic and foreign policies, and have their fingers on our nuclear trigger. Am I the only one who is disturbed by this?
That is all.