With Heathrow expansion approved by the government, furore is coming from left and right; objectors need to recognise it was the only real option.
Fifty years ago, Harold Wilson set up a commission to improve Britain’s airport based economy. This week, Theresa May’s government finally gave Heathrow expansion the go ahead, despite intense opposition from both her own benches and the rest of parliament. It would have been a sorry state for the founders of internationalism and free trade to hold back, yet again, on giving the world a clear sign it is open for business, so soon after what has been seen as a vote for isolation. Despite causing the greatest uproar in the Tory ranks since May took the helm, the decision was undeniably the correct one.
Post-Brexit, it is essential that the UK shows the rest of the world that it is not about to retreat in to itself. The most profitable, and indeed the most popular (only 33 per cent of locals oppose the plans) way to do this is by building a new runway at Heathrow. Britain’s only hub airport is currently operating at full capacity, and without expansion in the near future, will inevitably flatline. To many, including the vast majority of local residents that contradict the typical “NIMBYist” attitudes, the perpetual delay is inexplicable.
If we had failed to give the nod that the UK is still, as it always has been, open for trade and tourism, new flights in the constantly expanding tourism industry would simply operate elsewhere. It is a matter of fact that airlines prefer to work through a network of hub airports (a central point which facilitates connections), and if airlines cannot continue to direct increasing traffic through London, they will simply switch to a hub airport with spare capacity such as Paris or Amsterdam. Both Gatwick and Stansted have been considered, and Gatwick in particular ran a strong campaign to be chosen (acknowledged by Chris Grayling in his speech to the house) – but, as neither is a hub airport, neither could be a legitimate option. The switch in provider would be water off a duck’s back for airlines, but potentially disastrous for Britain’s tourist industry and indeed its trade and status on a global level.
That is without even considering the economic benefits to the UK and indeed the local boroughs surrounding Heathrow. Heathrow’s website has promised the creation of 50,000 new local jobs, and inevitably more nationwide. Furthermore, 10,000 local apprenticeships will be established in fields such as engineering, which are growing all the more important as we take our first steps into the fourth industrial revolution and the cautionary technology age. The predicted benefits to the treasury are worth £211 billion – and all with guarantees of the most environmentally-friendly methods being used. Grayling noted the detriment to the British economy should we fail to deliver on expansion: £20 billion over sixty years in fewer flights and delays, and a £35 billion knock to the wider economy in the next twenty.
It is a wonder, then, why both Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson are so vehemently opposed to it, especially considering that Johnson backed (and still supports) plans for an entirely new airport (at greater environmental cost) when Mayor of London. Both MPs have seats which would be directly affected by the new runway, so a degree of unease is to be expected – though the massive injection into the local economy surely nullifies the fears of both. Regardless; neither would be any great loss to the current Conservative government – Boris is the most controversial foreign secretary in recent memory and Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign proved him nothing but a burden. Likewise, if, as he says, Johnson wants Britain to continue being an open, internationalist state outside of the European Union, his opposition to Heathrow expansion beggar’s belief. It is of no credit to him that he is against policy which helps reverse fears about Britain’s diminishing global influence. Instead of fretting about splits in her cabinet, May can use the case of expansion to achieve a huge parliamentary mandate for her style of government and for an open nation post-Brexit.
If a week is a long time in politics, then fifty years is unbelievable. Compared to her grammar schools initiative, and the now buried foreign workers list ideas, the concept of airport expansion is one of the less controversial concepts of Theresa May’s as yet untarnished premiership. Despite her newfound public enthusiasm for Brexit, she clearly does not want to be remembered as the Prime Minister who shut the doors on Britain’s flourishing airspace. Time to stop messing about and build that runway.