Heathrow decision ‘cannot wait’
Labour strategy chief calls for final report on airport plans before 2015 as people who live nearby have right to know.
Contentious decisions on expanding airport capacity in the south-east of England cannot wait until after the 2015 general election, the man charged with devising Labour’s strategy on economic growth has declared.
The intervention by former transport secretary Lord Adonis, who is heading Labour’s economic growth review, comes amid suggestions that Tuesday’s interim report by the airports commission chairman, Sir Howard Davies, will downplay the urgency of capacity problems and may look instead to a solution being in place as late as 2030.
Government sources said last night that they expected Davies to say that, while extra capacity will be needed in time, there is no “crisis” yet. Ministers expect Davies to list four or five options for expansion, including new capacity at both Heathrow and Gatwick, but to stress that whatever plan is adopted can wait until “the end of the next decade”.
The Conservatives would be relieved if Davies were to downplay the urgency of the problem, as they are worried about the effect that plans to expand the number of flights into Heathrow would have on key seats in west London that lie underneath the flightpaths. Under current plans Davies is not due to deliver his final report until after the 2015 election.
But in a new Fabian Society booklet on the future of London, Adonis says decisions cannot wait until 2015 and calls on Davies to deliver his final report this summer. He also calls on his own party leader, Ed Miliband, to get together with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and London mayor Boris Johnson to agree a joint approach well before the next election.
Adonis writes: “Whether they succeed or fail, they will then have to tell the voters in 2015 what they intend to do. It will be hard for them to reconcile inaction on airport capacity with any claim to be pro-growth. Equally people who live around airports have a right to know what is being proposed before, not after, the general election.”
The stance adopted by Adonis, who earlier this year appeared to favour Heathrow expansion, shows that Labour as well as the Tories are divided over the issue. Before the last election Ed Miliband, when energy and climate change secretary, made clear he was completely opposed to Heathrow expansion.
Now, however, and since the Tories have abandoned their total opposition to a third Heathrow runway, Labour has shifted too, saying it will wait for the final Davies report. While Adonis seems to favour Heathrow expansion, Jon Cruddas, who is in charge of Labour’s overall policy review, has voted against a third runway at Heathrow.
Government insiders say they still expect Boris Johnson’s plans for a new airport to the east of London to be kept in play by Davies, despite reports saying he had rejected the idea on cost grounds.
Opponents of Heathrow expansion argue that the case put forward by its supporters is based on a PR myth. AirportWatch, an umbrella movement that includes Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Campaign for Better Transport, points out that, contrary to the line pushed by pro-expansion politicians and business leaders, Heathrow is not losing out to other European airports. The airport has 990 weekly departures to the world’s key business centres, more than its two closest rivals, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, combined.
And London’s status is not diminished by the state of the UK’s airports. London is still the top European city in which to do business, according to surveys.
“Any suggestion that there is no need to rush into this would be welcome,” said Nic Ferriday, spokesman for AirportWatch. “We’ve been saying for years that there is no shortage of capacity in this country or in the south-east of England in particular. The only airport where there are capacity issues is Heathrow, but the idea there is a crisis is manufactured. Using the Department for Transport’s own forecasts, we can see that, even if no new runway is built up to 2030, no traffic would be lost.”
Ferriday pointed out that Luton and Stansted were operating at only half capacity, leaving scope for these to be used as alternatives to Heathrow and Gatwick. “If people have to use these airports, it might be bad news for Heathrow but it is not going to damage the economy as a whole. We believe the Davies report will recommend the need to use airport capacity across the south east more fully.”