All parties get themselves into tangles at one time or another, and the Conservative party has got itself in a tangle over aviation. Most Conservatives instinctively favour airport expansion. The market supports it, business supports it, and most people expect the Conservatives to support it at the next election.
But Zac, Justine and Boris have a point. Heathrow has a noise problem. That is why Boris – helped along by Foster + Partners – has come up with a new plan for an airport in Cliffe. It would be quieter, no doubt about that.
But it is also in the wrong place for business. A quarter of business travellers using Heathrow get to the airport within 30 minutes. That would be impossible at Fosters’ proposed airport, unless you live at St Pancras station, or the Medway towns. An inaccessible airport just doesn’t work – as Montreal Mirabel so clearly demonstrates. That is why Willie Walsh and other airlines prefer to stay at Heathrow. It is an airport that works for business.
So what we need is a bigger, quieter Heathrow. Bigger means four runways. Every major city has a four runway airport: Paris, New York, Madrid. Boris is right: that is what London needs.
Thankfully it proves to be easier to design a quieter, four runway airport than perhaps we first thought. The simplest way to reduce noise is to land planes further to the west. Put simply, more people live east of Heathrow than west of Heathrow. That is why HACAN, the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, have campaigned for planes to land a little further west for years. A larger, quieter Heathrow is based around replacing the current two runways with four new ones, located to the west of the current runways, over the M25 and Wraysbury reservoir.