I believe we now desperately need a visionary outlook to improving our capital’s transport infrastructure and take the UK’s transport decision-making out of the hands of corporate interests and environmental pressure groups.
By papering over Heathrow’s cracks, we get a cut price remedy for our overburdened airports. But for how long and at what cost to the long term health of our economy and transport system, the character of west London, and the quality of life for local residents?
We need more airport capacity and I am all in favour of people’s horizons being extended by international travel. Much of this inevitably will be by jet plane. I should be in favour of the third runway and this government’s additions to Heathrow’s infrastructure if I believed it was a long term solution. But I fear it is not.
What both London and the UK now need is a new state-of-the-art hub airport located to the east of our capital. By building from scratch, such an airport would be planned according to the needs of a modern, global economy and could utilise advances in environmentally-sound construction and high speed rail links into central London, Docklands and beyond. Flying in over the North Sea, planes would not disturb a large residential population, allowing a truly modern airport to operate 24 hours a day. Business folk would be able to depart to and arrive from India, China and the rapidly developing economies of South East Asia at convenient times. Construction could take place with minimal disruption and the airport would be located in a place which would allow for future expansion.
It is clear to me as an MP who represents Britain’s financial heart, that there is a strong economic case for a comprehensive overhaul of our thinking towards aviation. And I speak as someone who rejoices in the availability of airline travel for all and sundry. We live in a global marketplace. Agricultural produce, for example, comes to us from all parts of the world and we should wholeheartedly support free trade with the developing world as the best way for such nations to rise out of poverty. Flying is part of our commercial life and Heathrow has been the mainstay of our international connectivity for more than 50 years.
But now is the time to move on. Heathrow is currently operating at full capacity and every year 68 million passengers cram into facilities designed to take 45 million. With its two runways, Heathrow is the world’s busiest international airport and the resultant chaos is clear for all to see.
I reckon we need to completely rethink the entire issue of aviation and airports in Britain and resurrect the idea of a brand new hub airport to the east of London operated by someone other than BAA to provide competition. This idea has been considered and rejected before, mainly on the grounds of finance but we need to take a brav e step and accept that Heathrow will never be what Britain wants and needs it to be.
Mark Field is the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster.