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Theresa Villiers MP: The Government has failed to make the case for a a third runway at Heathrow

Villiers_theresa_nw Theresa Villiers MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Transport and will lead today's Opposition day debate on the very issue of the third runway at Heathrow.

For years, many who hated the idea of a third runway at Heathrow felt that it was inevitable, and that they could do nothing about it. By coming out against a third runway, David Cameron has exploded that myth of inevitability and given people a clear choice. If they do not want a new runway at Heathrow, they should vote Conservative at the general election.

The Government has completely failed to make the economic case for a third runway. The Oxford Economic Forecasting study on which most of the economic arguments are based has been widely refuted. It is astounding that the study failed to make any attempt to include cost the impact of noise, air pollution and a massive increase in road congestion in their analysis. And no one has come up with any convincing evidence to back the “expand or die” theory which says that Heathrow will face a spiral of decline without massive expansion. By contrast, all the evidence points to the fact that millions of people will still want to fly to and from Heathrow, regardless of whether expansion occurs or not. Indeed the aviation industry lobby group Flying Matters stated in a recent briefing to MPs that “Heathrow remains the UK’s number one airport of choice”.

And it is wrong to say that business is universally in favour of a third runway. For example, London First’s Steering Group into Heathrow expansion is deeply divided on this; and a recent poll of small businesses by Continental Research found that 95 per cent believed that expanding Heathrow would make little or no difference to them.

Furthermore, Geoff Hoon’s claim that we need a third runway to get us out of our current economic woes is simply misleading. Whatever jobs might be generated by building or operating a third runway will not be available for another decade at least, with the project set to be tied up in a lengthy planning wrangle and legal dispute. A third runway would do nothing at all for those facing unemployment today because of Labour’s reckless management of the economy.

However, the environmental arguments against the third runway are compelling. A third runway would add an extra 222,000 flights a year to Heathrow airport. That is the equivalent of bolting on an airport the size of Gatwick. And let’s not, for one second, believe the empty promises of Geoff Hoon about restricting the capacity of the new runway, or saving new slots for ‘green planes’. This is from the very same Labour Government who tried to remove the cap they promised when they gave the go ahead for Terminal 5, years before that terminal was even open!

Geoff Hoon has admitted that Heathrow, even at its current size, already exceeds EU limits for air quality that will come into force in 2010. When the Environmental Agency, the Government’s own advisers, are warning them that the air pollution from a third runway would pose an increase risk of serious illness and early death in the areas around the airport it is reckless for Geoff Hoon to plough on with a third runway regardless.

Noise from Heathrow is already an issue in areas as far apart as Reading and Greenwich and a third runway would make a serious problem much worse. Let’s just look at the figures they use to justify their claim that a third runway can go ahead without unacceptable levels of aircraft noise. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the key figures which the Government has relied upon to comply with the promises they have made on noise and air pollution were “reverse engineered” and “reforecasted” until the answer ministers wanted was produced.

And the Government’s analysis also relies on a fantasy plane – the ‘green jumbo’. They predict that by 2030, this plane will replace all current Boeing 747s, and even most of its successors, which are not even on the market yet. But neither of the two major plane manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, have any plan to build this plane, nor is it in either of their design portfolios. Frankly this plane was dreamt up by Labour in order to fix the figures to allow them to duck the promises they have made on noise and air pollution.

And what about the Government’s promise to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050? Despite rushing out yet another empty promise to reduce emissions from planes by 2050, the Government have come up with no concrete plan to explain how a 46 per cent increase in flights will be reconciled with the international fight against catastrophic climate change.

But there is an alternative. Conservative proposals to build a high speed line linking Heathrow terminals directly with London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, and with Europe through the Channel Tunnel, will free up thousands of landing slots at Heathrow by providing a viable alternative to short haul flights to a number of UK and near European destinations. This will provide the relief from overcrowding the airport needs, without the damage to the environment and quality of life that would be caused by a third runway. It means we can improve the airport for business travellers and holiday-makers without inflicting unreasonable punishment on those living near the airport and under the flight path.


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