Does Boris want Heathrow to close?
The lobbyists for a third runway at Heathrow Airport have been raising the stakes. They say that if we had a Thames Estuary Airport instead - "Boris Island" - then Heathrow Airport would not be viable. It would have to close altogether. Over 60,000 jobs would be lost.
I was interested to see the Mayor of London Boris Johnson's response to this. At a recent London Assembly Mayor's Questions, the Conservative London Assembly member Tony Arbour was trying to be helpful:
Tony Arbour (AM): Do you not think it scandalous and outrageous, Mr Mayor, that Heathrow has recently issued a statement suggesting that Heathrow is going to be closed and there will therefore be devastation right across west London unequalled since the Luftwaffe? Do you not think that it needs to be said loudly and clearly that it has never been your intention or indeed the intention of those people who live near the airport and who are the principal protesters that Heathrow should go? What we and you have been advocating is that there be additional aircraft capacity possibly in the Thames Estuary which will take most of the traffic which goes to Heathrow but Heathrow in itself will continue to be an economic driver for west London.
However in his reply Mr Johnson gave a pretty strong message that closing Heathrow would be a fantastic opportunity:
I think certainly you could imagine a much reduced airport there in the future. But do not forget that Heathrow at the moment only supplies about 3% of the economic activity of west London. That corridor is already one of the most dynamic and competitive parts of the whole of the United Kingdom (UK) economy. You could imagine that with a four runway hub airport elsewhere, a lot of that space could be released. We have talked a lot about the shortage of housing. That land could be released for fantastic quality housing. You have an area roughly the size of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You could imagine new high tech industry, university campuses and an incredible employment future for that area.
In the meantime, the economy of this city and this country would be driven forward even faster by our ability to compete once again with other European countries in aviation capacity. We are losing that. We are losing jobs. We are losing market share to Schiphol, to Frankfurt, to Paris. We are seeing jobs that should be British jobs migrate overseas. It is an absolute tragedy and we need to regain our competitive edge. That is why I think we need a new airport.
My own view is that Boris Island would be both commercially and technically entirely viable and would be a great advance on the current arrangements. The jobs would be replaced. But this exchange gives us a reminder of Mr Johnson's boldness.
Often people might say that something - such as the location of London's Airport - was a mistake, but that nothing can be done about it. Mr Johnson is more inclinced to say if there has been a mistake then let's sort it out.