'Saying 'no' to a third runway is not a solution'

So, the Coalition has binned plans for a third runway at Heathrow for good. But where is the plan B? Nigel Cooper, founder of events firm P&MM, gets on his soapbox.

by Nigel Cooper
Last Updated: 30 Nov 2012

Justine Greening has re-affirmed the Coalition’s position that a third runway at Heathrow is not the medium or long-term solution to the UK’s air traffic issues. Labour have also stated they are opposed to a third runway, so all the parties are in agreement – the cynic in me can't quite believe my ears but that is by the by.

So, they're all in accord. Big woo. The real issue here that all parties, political and commercial need to identify is that we have a problem and need to do some something urgently.  If we wait much longer, we will be left in the wilderness, watching all those lovely income-generating flights from the Americas fly right on past us.

You do not need to be a travel expert to know that one thing is certain: we need extra capacity and we need it now. Our pre-eminence as a European hub is being eroded. We have been debating for ten years about expanding Heathrow and other London airports. At this stage, simply saying 'no' to a third runway is not making a decision.

The official reason is that it is only a short-term solution but surely doing nothing is worse than doing something that could buy us the time we need to deliver a long-term solution. Unfortunately that is not the British way.

The M25 was discussed in the 1960s and work started in the early seventies with the first section open in 1975. Sadly successive governments dithered over planning and implementation delaying the official completion until 1986, meaning that by the time it was open, it was already inadequate.

The Channel tunnel was first proposed in 1802, then again in 1856, 1865, 1867, 1876, 1881 etc. Construction work finally started in 1974 only to be cancelled by the 1975 Labour government. Thatcher kicked the project into life again in 1979 and final plans were approved in 1987 with construction starting the following year. The tunnel opened in 1994. After 170 years of dithering it took all of Margaret Thatcher’s notorious drive, determination and bullying to get the job done, and it still took 15 years.

Two massive infrastructure projects, both massively delayed because no government had the courage of their convictions. We simply cannot afford to the same with our air travel.

I personally don’t care if we build a brand new airport like Boris Island or simply expand Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Heathrow. But, given parliament’s proclivity towards tardiness, wouldn’t it be better to sanction the short-term solution and then start work on the long term solution? One thing I do know is this: whatever we decide, it will be late, out of date and insufficient by the time it arrives...
Nigel Cooper is executive director of P&MM Events & Communications and founding chair of events trade association, Eventia.

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