The West London Question

It is a generally accepted fact within the government and opposition that airport capacity in the south east needs to be expanded. Failure to do so now will result in our existing capacity being stretched to breaking point and our economic competitiveness in the global market falling.

The question on everybody’s lips, though, is how? Every option being taken seriously is not short of controversy – whether it be expanding Heathrow with the dreaded third runway, or one of a number of options being explored in the Thames Estuary.

The government has commissioned Sir Howard Davies to look into all the options and report back. The trouble is, such a report will likely not come until after the next general election in 2015, delaying the need to make a difficult decision, but also delaying the inevitable expansion necessary to ensure Britain remains economically viable on the global stage.

Of course the ultimately accepted option needs to have been carefully considered and must be right for Britain – and there are many good and bad attributes attached to each option currently in the public sphere.

The most difficult position, though, is not held by the Prime Minister or the new Transport Secretary, nor is it held by Sir Howard. Each may face a backlash from those who are affected by the outcome, but, crucially, not from their own constituents.

It is those West London MPs – people such as Justine Greening, relieved of her Transport brief at the beginning of this week – who must either sell the final option to their constituents successfully, resign from government, or potentially face a kicking in the polls.

They face a difficult electorate. People living in and around Heathrow do not want to see a third runway increasing aircraft traffic and, crucially, noise on their doorstep. They would prefer any such necessary expansion to occur elsewhere.

However, whatever alternative solution is chosen must not result in the closure of Heathrow, which many (including a hub airport in the Thames Estuary) inevitably would. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the West London economy, not only killing the direct trade and jobs at Heathrow itself, but also the surrounding supply chain. The effect would be to create a ghost town unseen in Britain before.

It is, for our West London MPs, a seemingly impossible contradiction, Catch 22, and one which will be painfully, agonisingly drawn-out until after May 2015. I do not envy Patrick McLoughlin (or whoever holds the Transport brief when Sir Howard reports) for what lays ahead.

The task of selling the result of Sir Howard’s report, even to some of his own MPs and members, will be difficult.

Daily Telegraph letter: Friday, 25 November 2011

A decision is needed on Boris Island, and soon

SIR – Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is correct to assert that Britain is in desperate need of increased airport capacity (report, November 22) to ensure that we keep a firm footing on the international market and do not lose business from emerging economies such as Brazil and China.

There is fierce opposition in Medway to his “Boris Island” proposal, and to Lord Foster’s proposed airport on the Isle of Grain, for a number of reasons – most importantly, the impact it would have on the quality of life for the 250,000 Medway residents not displaced by developments.

Of course, the arguments being presented by Medway council and its residents are similar to those who oppose expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow. But the greatest risk to our aviation standing is not the “nimbies” in each affected area, but lack of political will in the decision-makers. Mr Johnson does not wish to offer a proposal which will have a direct negative effect on his constituents, while members of the Government do not wish to lose support in their heartlands.

What is needed is an immediate consultation on the proposals, followed by a decision. Action needs to be taken before permanent damage is done to our trade links, a damning prospect for our economy.

Alan W. Collins

Yourmedway letter: Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Boris’ airport plan is simply ludicrous

“A brand new, state-of-the-art, three-runway airport would promote growth, attract investment and create employment”. I can already picture residents on the Hoo Peninsula queuing for miles to benefit from the ‘local’ jobs promised as they watch their idyllic surroundings ravaged by ruthless machinery.

The problem is that Boris’ plans to pave over the beautiful north Kent countryside – a prominent habitat for migrating birds, which sees ornithologists flocking to catch a glimpse of a rare species – do not merely involve the terminal and runways.

Associated infrastructure will kill any remaining natural beauty – a promise to connect via the high-speed rail network and vastly increased traffic to accommodate tourists, business travellers and thousands of airport staff on existing roads (not to mention the miles of extra roadways that would be necessary) would ensure that any remaining green spaces were dutifully paved over and any wildlife (not to mention us human beings) remaining were sent running for fear of their lives.

Now, I am a massive fan of Mayor BoJo. His brilliant intelligence allowed him to create his persona of a clumsy baboon. His faux pas, though offending huge populations at a time, were largely innocent and harmless. Not so since his deluded visions for ‘Boris Island’ – and now, we learn, for a resurrection of plans fought fiercely and successfully against, emanating from his political foes.

Another issue being overlooked by some campaigners is that the plan is to create an international hub on a scale seen by few nations, and a replacement for London Heathrow as the country’s primary airport. Naturally, this aim is best served by siting such a crucial terminal at almost the most southeastern most tip of our islands.

Alan W Collins
By email