Build the third runway at Heathrow airport. And a fourth. Build new runways at London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports too. And then build a helipad directly on top of the homes and gardens of all the selfish, hand-wringing, growth-averse, NIMBY-ish naysayers who think that their decision to live by an airport gives them veto rights over Britain’s economic future.
Chicago’s O’Hare international airport has seven runways. Count them. Seven. Five of these runways run east-west and the other two run diagonally. So long as your aircraft possesses an engine and wheels, there is almost certainly a runway at O’Hare suitable for landing without the need to circle the city in a never-ending holding pattern before finally lining up for approach and touching down an hour after actually arriving.
You can fly in and out of Chicago quickly, efficiently and cheaply because generations of local political leaders – for all their many other faults – have understood that aviation provides a huge boost to the economy, and that a city which makes access and connection quick and convenient for all types of traveller will surely reap the economic rewards.
Nine hours away in London, this common-sense attitude is sorely lacking. Despite the fact that no new full-length runway has been constructed in London or the south-east of England since the 1940s – when we were still digging ourselves out of the rubble of the Blitz – Britain is wasting time, energy and precious economic opportunities debating whether or not to increase airport capacity at any one of several implausible choices in south-eastern England beside the obvious option of committing to London’s Heathrow Airport, the largest and most popular.
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As a passionate eco-evangelist, my response might surprise you. Your suggestions – Upper Heyford etc. etc. are both absolutely necessary – and utter lunacy. Which matters most depends on your basic assumptions. Most of my co-religionists (as you no doubt see us) ignore the necessity – yes, necessity – of retaining a competitive edge in a competitive world. You guys are utterly complacent on the risk of reaching a tipping point due to abuse of the Earth’s self-regulating mechanisms. My blog offers some ideas on how to start the reconciliation of the two sides.
It’s not about ‘competition’ it is about choice. If I choose to travel abroad (at my own expense, not to some ‘Earth Summit’ expenses-paid jolly), I like to do so from as local a point as possible. And for me that means avoiding London, Dover and Calais and adding to the congestion in those places.
Similarly I’d like to encourage the thousands of North American tourists who visit Oxford, Stratford, Warwick and the Cotswolds every year to be able to enter our country at a more local destination than Heathrow. Do you seriously think that we should tell them not to visit our country?
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You ignore the eco side of the dilemma. Within your mind set, you are absolutely right.
Ah yes, so all those American and Canadian tourists who wish to visit our country – and their British heritage – should come over by steam packet or not at all. Within your mind set that would be correct.
Let’s look at the eco-side of the dilemma. The huge wave of immigration from Eastern Europe – supported by the political party that claims to be ‘Green’ – has been facilitated by Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizzair. Whilst these immigrants are mostly settled in Britain, they regularly visit their respective countries of origin using those budget airlines. Wizzair wouldn’t exist without this custom.
It is the mass migration of labour, encouraged by the EU – which is again supported by the political party that claims to be ‘Green’ and which will campaign for us to stay in the EU – that is the root cause of this problem. But there are also thousands of students from other EU countries in Britain – again supported by the political party which claims to be ‘Green’ – who are keeping these airlines in business. Perhaps the political party which claims to be ‘Green’ should look at its support for the EU.
Added to all the above, the post-bubble wreckage of the Irish economy means that there are hundreds of Irish people doing a weekly commute from Dublin to Stansted and back with Ryanair, in order that they can work in London. Would you like to get off your high horse and suggest to them what they should do? Emigrate to Australia or the USA? Those who have done so, certainly haven’t done so by sailing ship.
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You do not help your case by ridiculing things I do not say. My worry is future expansion (aka ‘choice’), not advocating a return to the past. And (trying to cut a long story short) there are other non sequiturs. Greens did not create Ryanair.
You are right in that the Party I helped to found as a response to ‘Limits to Growth’ (1972) has morphed into anti-austerity. But that is irrelevant to my original reply to Sam H, which was that there are two mind sets, neither of which even wants to understand the other.
What should be done? I don’t have a complete answer, but my blog
features the Basic, or Citizens’ Income as a start in the necessary culture shift.
Thanks for your reply. I agree that Birmingham is a hard ‘brand’ to sell, even with the once somewhat ridiculous suggestion of renaming BHX as ‘Shakespeare International’. With a bit of personal bias as a Native Oxonian (who now lives in Warwickshire), Oxford already does have an international ‘brand’ that is well established; and that for tourist reasons as well as business ones a new international airport at Upper Heyford would be well situated for the Cotswolds, Warwick and Stratford. (The Chipping Norton NIMBY’s might not like it though). A new station between Banbury and Bicester, to serve it, would also offer a good route into Marylebone. M40 junction 10 would be ideally situated to serve it as well. The M40 is also nowhere near as congested as the M4 (not that i want it to be!).
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I have to say that I disagree with this, but not for NIMBY-ish reasons, because I don’t live in London nor for eco-evangelical reasons because I support air travel. Expanding Heathrow and continuing with the Londo-centricity of planning in England just means more of us than we want to be, end up travelling through London when we shouldn’t have to.
I suggest scrapping HS2 and increasing the capacity of long-haul (esp transatlantic) flights at Birmingham International (possibly diverting some short-hop European routes to Coventry Baginton).
Additionally, convert the former USAF base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire into a new airport for Oxford, the Upper Thames Valley and the South Midlands, which is experiencing high levels of population growth and economic development. Upper Heyford is located close to the M40 and the Chiltern and Cherwell Valley railway lines. There is more to England that the London ‘brand’; Oxford has a strong ‘brand’ and it attracts millions of overseas visitors. Oh and none of this nonsense of ‘London Oxford’ please (for Kidlington airport or anywhere else).
Many thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts – I agree with you in some respects.
I have absolutely no objection to building new runways, even new airports, elsewhere in the country. I see this very much as a both/and rather than either/or scenario, which unfortunately is how the government and almost all of the commentariat see it.
Like it or not, London is our only truly world class metropolis, and so we should make sure it is properly served with aviation links, not seek to build up the rest of the UK by tearing down London.
But having said that, we should absolutely be investing in our other cities too. I’ve recently been working in Newcastle, which is an absolutely amazing city with lots of foreign students and tourists. We need massive devolution to the cities and counties so that these cities are free to implement growth-friendly policies and incentives, and as they grow the Westminster government should stand ready to help them by expanding airport capacity when they need it.
But it has to be market led. It’s no good diverting international flights to Birmingham or Manchester, great as these cities are, when people want to go to London. And it’s no good building a rival hub in London, forcing connecting passengers to have to shuttle between the two.
I absolutely agree that we need to end the London-centricity of UK planning. Crossrail part 2, for instance, seems to be a misallocation of national resources. But for the time being we need some quick wins, on of which is approving expansion of Heathrow Airport. And the conversion of the old US air base at Upper Heyford sounds eminently sensible too.
I wish Britain would adopt an unapologetically pro-growth “all of the above” strategy when it comes to aviation, but this seems very unlikely to happen.
Thanks again for reading and commenting!