There has been some hopeful signs that Britain's Conservative Party, self-impaled on their pre 2010 election pledge of "No 3rd Heathrow runway" which was unnecessarily aimed at the voters of West London, had been re-thinking its opposition, for which read total negativity, to this nationally essential project. It was even beginning to look exciting and as if something might actually get done to meet London's blindingly obvious need to keep its major international business, never mind aviation, hub status.
This morning, any such hopes came crashing down with Transport Minister Justine Greening's catageorical denial that the Government is about to even allow the Heathrow possibility to be part of the forthcoming review of London and Britain's future airport capacity needs. To rule out the most obvious, quickest, cheapest, least economically damaging (not only to London but the whole M4 corridor to the west as far out as Swindon) solution is absurd. Such are the nonsenses of politics, particularly immature ones. Ms Greening stood in her constituency on a "No 3rd runway " ticket and she is deeply wedded to that agenda, which became part of the Conservative manifesto. It limited her flexibility of thought and action from the start but it was considered in 2010 that since "No runway" was eagerly embraced by the Conservatives' coalition partner the Lib Dems, it didn't bar her from being Transport Secretary .In other parts of the portfolio where she is not encumbered by this hangup she has performed well. Her recent announcement of extensive additional railway electrification is excellent and goes beyond what even the most optimistic expected.
Recently Ed Miliband's Labour Party has also moved away from its very pro and proactive stance on the runway when in power and joined the "No camp". That leaves his Party also high and dry and with nowhere to go on the London hub issue in the short or medium terms. This is a serious problem . The need is now not even 2020, never mind 2030, 2040 or 2050 all of which could be the length of time it would take to get a new site and its connecting infrastructure, housing, support industries and the rest up and running on a Thames Estuary . The cost of that has been quoted by its protagonsists, including the charismatic but not always realistic Boris Johnson, Mayor or London as £20 or 30 billion. In reality it likely to be closer to £100 billion. This is is Britain with British costs, productivity levels, planning processes,environmetal wranglings and local and national politics not non- Japanese Asia. 2030 is probably a non starter.2040 is a "maybe with a fair wind behind it" . It is taking a mimimum of 9 years to get a 5 mile link from the nearby Great Western mainline into Heathrow despite an empty station being there already ready and waiting,- and that's Ms Greening's published estimate.
Interestingly over the past few days there have been stirrings from the wiser heads in the Labour Party. Lord Adonis would certainly back the 3rd runway. Had he remained in office after the election he would have continued to persue it and by now the diggers and earth movers would have been on site. Alistair Darling speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4 was measured and persuasive about the need to get the runway built as soon as possible. He was also absolutely clear about the issue of the West London and M4 corridor economies. He talked very good sense in straight English rather than Westminster Politico-ease.
The way that British politics look right now there is a real chance of a Labour Government in 2015, and quite likely one with an overall majority so no need for a coalition of any kind. That may be high risk in many areas of economic and social policy, but for aviation, Heathrow and the real western London, it looks a better option than the one they face now.
FOOTNOTE: If , regardless of the realities, Heathrow really is to be condemned to death, east of London is not where its successor should be. Stansted is already there and it struggles despite reasonable road and rail links.
HISTORY SO FAR:
-1947/48 Heathrow masterplan showed 9 projected runways. 6 south of the A4 in a star of David . 3 in a triangle to the north between the A4 and where the M4 now runs.
-1953 The plan for the runways north of the A4 plan abandoned and the other 6 modified /reduced to cater for the central area terminal development.Gradually over time the number of runways has shrunk to 3 and then in the 1980s to the 2 pallel east-west ones currently in use.
-1971 The Roskill Commission set up to recommend a location for "the third London Airport" recommended Cublington/Wing in Buckinghamshire. 6 of the 7 Comissioners in favour. 1 produced a report opposing it on environmental grounds. Also great opposition by local, mainly Conservative groups. Government rejects the verdict of the 7 and selects the remote Foulness artillery firing range on the Essex coast instead. Also heavily opposed by environmentalists and the wild bird lobby.
- 1970s Foulness also dropped.
Since then, apart from the opening of Stansted as a modern airport with one runway and the promise not to build a second at Gatwick before 2018 nothing has happened.