David Wilshire MP: Heathrow needs a third runway
On last night's Channel 4 News MPs Ian Taylor and John Redwood questioned Tory opposition to a third runway for Heathrow. On ConservativeHome next week Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers will defend the policy and her plan for a £20bn high speed rail alternative. David Wilshire MP kicks off the debate today by arguing that anti-aviation policies will damage the economy, reduce choices and cost political support.
If I understand recent policy announcements correctly, we are now officially opposed to building any new airports or runways in the South East. The unelected few campaigning to stop us flying will be thrilled whilst the unconsulted many will suffer.
If we implement this policy and the threat to reverse any expansion decisions made before we become the government, we will do enormous damage to the British economy and destroy jobs. We will also make it ever more difficult for British people to travel conveniently and comfortably and ultimately cost ourselves electoral support.
As one of the airport’s MPs, I worry every time I hear someone say “Heathrow is a national disgrace” and I shake my head in disbelief when those who should know better say “we need to improve it not enlarge it”. The inescapable truth is that Heathrow is in trouble which cannot be cured without another runway.
The most frequent complaints about Heathrow involve cancellations, missed connections, delays and lost baggage – all caused at least in part by the fact that the two runways are 98% full.
Whilst the weather causes some cancellations, the knock-on effect of subsequent cancellations happens because there are no spare take-off slots when the weather improves. Our main competitor airports across the channel have 25% spare runway capacity.
Connections are often missed because inbound aircraft circle round and round waiting for a runway slot on the congested runways. This also causes the long queues of aircraft waiting to take off. The annual amount of fuel wasted and pollution generated by these frustration-causing problems is vast.
Many of Heathrow’s baggage losses are caused by delayed landings leaving too little time for a bag to transfer from one terminal to another. Cure the delays and fewer bags will go missing.
There are lots of other reasons why Heathrow needs another runway. The most important are the growing demand and the on-going reduction in routes served. These issues cannot be addressed by telling the travelling public to catch a train or use a different UK airport.
A large number of Heathrow’s inter-continental routes are only profitable because of passengers flying in from elsewhere in the UK or Western Europe to transfer to a long-haul flight. Divert the transfer passengers and you wreck the route structure that is Heathrow’s national and international appeal.
Without a new runway it will become harder and harder for passengers from the rest of the UK and nearby countries to get to Heathrow. Next time someone needs to go to Japan they may well do what all too many have already decided to do – fly to Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris and transfer there. Not only does this result in the same or more greenhouse gases being produced but it also destroys British jobs and undermines British businesses.
My elders and betters like to dismiss my views as the ramblings of someone with a vested interest in airport expansion who doesn’t understand public opinion. The results of the tens of thousands of questionnaires I have distributed over the years give the lie to this. They prove that 75% of those I represent support the building of Terminal 5 and over half support a new runway.
If seeking to protect UK plc, the City of London, the South East and my constituents is a crime, I plead guilty. I make no apologies for speaking out against the nonsenses propounded by the anti-aviation lobby.
Nor do I apologise for pointing out the blindingly obvious - Heathrow either goes forward or backwards. It cannot continue to prosper if it is forced to stand still. Boris proves this point. He accepts that the UK needs to provide for the growth in demand and have a better international hub airport. His preferred solution is a new bigger airport in the Thames Estuary which would require the closure of Heathrow for it to succeed.
However, I would have to apogise if someone came up with an alternative solution that offered another way to meet the growing demand for international travel and a better Heathrow. To date nobody has. Opening a new railway from London to Leeds (for which a business plan does not yet exist) in nineteen years time certainly isn’t a realistic alternative.
Given the vast increase in government borrowing over the past few days, spending a further £20 billion of tax-payers’ money to knock just 28 minutes off a train journey from Leeds to London makes little sense and solves nothing. Building a new runway would cost less than half that sum and solve the problem (using money from the private sector rather than the tax-payer).
I rest my case.