The Government’s determination to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow flies in the face of a considerable weight of economic and environmental opinion. Thousands of Londoners are opposed to expansion and over 160 M.P.’s have called for a rethink. I certainly share these concerns and can confirm that if the Conservatives win the next general election, we will scrap Labour's plans for a third runway at Heathrow.
After consideration of the environmental, social and economic impacts of expansion, I do not believe that the case for a third runway at Heathrow has been made; the benefits simply do not outweigh the environmental costs of expansion. The extra 222,000 flights a year at Heathrow which would come with a third runway will blight the lives of thousands more people with aircraft noise and increased pollution levels leading to serious damage to the health of local communities. They would also undermine our efforts to meet our national targets on climate change.
The economic case for Heathrow expansion has unravelled over recent months. Significantly, the Dutch economic consultancy CE Delft, recently concluded that The Department for Transport estimate that the proposed expansion of Heathrow will generate £5 billion (over a 70 year period) is exaggerated. CE Delft also found that the Government’s consultants, Oxford Economic Forecasting, had over-estimated the suppressed business demand which would be released by expansion at Heathrow. Indeed, Bob Ayling, the former chief executive of British Airways, has argued that the plans to expand Heathrow would be “a costly mistake” and “against Britain’s economic interests.”
The social cost to those who live across a vast swathe of South and South West London have also simply been ignored. Entire villages will disappear off the map and the increased noise and air pollution will have a detrimental effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners who live near the flight path.
Conservatives have consistently urged the Government to consider alternatives to deal with the capacity constraints at Heathrow, and to plan for the long-term transport infrastructure our country needs.
Instead of Heathrow expansion we have announced that a Conservative Government would give the go-ahead for a new high speed rail line linking up Heathrow, St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Experience around the rest of Europe shows clearly that high speed rail provides an attractive alternative to short haul flights. We believe that the new link we propose could replace virtually all of the flights between Heathrow and destinations such as Manchester, Leeds, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
By relieving overcrowding problems at the airport our proposals would do a huge amount to deal with Heathrow hassle and provide the much improved airport we need for our economic competitiveness, while at the same time helping to reduce pollution and emissions from domestic transport.
Heathrow expansion is a clear example of the Government getting its priorities colossally wrong by not listening. The focus should be on making Heathrow a better airport, not bigger, to ensure our continued economic competitiveness does not come and the expense of our quality of like and environmental sustainability.
Bob Neill M.P. is the Member of Parliament for Bromley & Chislehurst and the Shadow Minister for Local Government & London