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Aviation: Don’t say one thing and do another

20 November 2012

Some tickets to the Spectator’s next debate, ‘No Ifs, No Buts: Heathrow Must Have a Third Runway’, are still available. Tim Yeo, chairman of the energy and climate change select committee, and Jon Moulton, chairman of Better Capital, and influential Tory backbencher Graham Brady will be speaking in favour of the motion, while Daniel Moylan, Boris’ right hand man, and John Stewart, chairman of the ClearSkies campaign, will oppose the motion. Click here for more information and the box office. In the piece below, Cheryl Gillan MP, the former Secretary of State for Wales, discusses many of the economic issues that surround this vital political debate.

The danger of putting the cart before the horse – or the railway before the airport

The Coalition Government has made it clear that its main priority is to return the UK to sustainable, long-term economic prosperity. With the Prime Minister’s dramatic assertion that this country is in the economic equivalent of a state of warfare, he raises the spectre of sweeping aside blocks to development and driving through a vision which neither brooks dissent nor considers alternatives. But, at one and the same time, by delaying the Davies report on airport capacity, he himself has turned the Department of Transport into a block to delivering that priority.

Maintaining our place as a global aviation hub is a vital part in securing our economic future. The UK is one of the best and most connected countries in the world, but the last 50 years has seen Britain fail to keep up with our international competitors in increasing airport capacity. The Government, whilst working hard to stabilise the economy and ramping up the rhetoric against consultations and judicial reviews, has delayed the process which will secure the future of aviation, how it will fit into this plan for recovery and ensure the integrity of a future integrated transport system. The prospect of a third runway at Heathrow has caused concern, particularly to residents who live near and under the flight paths. The Government has enshrined in the Coalition Agreement its opposition to a third runway. Yet the importance of maintaining our place as a global aviation hub increases and the need to reassess our aviation policy and the future it will play in improving Britain’s economy becomes ever more pressing.


In September, the Government set up the independent commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to recommend options for maintaining the UK’s status as a global aviation hub. Part of its investigation will be to recommend options for meeting the UK’s international and domestic connectivity needs. However its final deadline has been pushed out to 2015 and observers could be forgiven for thinking that is to ensure that any promises over Heathrow would not need to be broken by the Coalition Government should expansion at Heathrow be the recommended alternative.

But the rest of the world is not going to wait. Recently, on our doorstep, Dutch aviation chiefs have even launched a new campaign for Schipol Airport promoting one of its six runways by naming it “Heathrow’s third runway”, exploiting our obvious weakness in this area. The world’s major carriers have placed substantial orders for the new larger planes such as Airbus’s A380 and travel patterns will be changing with the emergence of economies such as India and China strengthen and draw more and more business eastwards.

We simply cannot wait until 2015 for recommendations on our future airports. There are proposals from The Mayor of London for a new airport in East London or expansion at Stansted. If the Government has ruled out Heathrow, then these two options, together with Gatwick and Luton, should form the basis of the review and it should be delivered rapidly.

The Commission’s results should then drive the resulting infrastructure projects, particularly High Speed Rail 2. This approach of course raises the question why the Government is ploughing ahead with a fixed point to point railway such as HS2 when our airport capacity demands may result in that new airport being in the east of London – building on the Olympic legacy and delivering more regeneration and utilising the new station capacity at Stratford. With the Commission, on a timetable dictated by Government, aiming to present its final report in 2015, the same year the Bill for HS2 is expected to receive Royal Assent, continuing with this £34 billion project seems to me put the cart before the horse.

HS2 is being branded as a solution to future transport capacity issues, but the project lacks vital connectivity with other facets of our transport infrastructure, namely a proper link with a major UK airport or with HS1. It simply does not make sense to continue with a project of this size and expense when we do not yet know if it will complement the recommendations of the Davies Commission.

The Government needs to implement an aviation strategy that will link up with the rest of the UK’s transport system, joining it together and offering at its heart an infrastructure that will preserve our status as a leading global aviation hub. In its current guise, I do not see that HS2 can play a part in such a plan unless and until the decisions on what will be our major hub airport are made. Under the Government’s present proposals we shall finish up with an expanded airport(s) to meet international traveller demand – or a brand new airport – without any of our airports having a station on our High Speed train network. What are we trying to do?

The Right Hon Cheryl Gillan MP is the Conservative member for Chesham and Amersham

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  • Graham Cresswell

    I’m a recently retired airline pilot. If the eco-warriors had any idea how much fuel I have personally burned going round and round the stacks at Heathrow I am sure they would think again about runway capacity there. The fact is that we need all the solutions. We need mixed mode at Heathrow (which means that take-offs and landings are mixed on each runway) rather than the Cranford agreement (which means that take-offs launch from one runway and landings arrive on the other until 3:00pm when they switch over). Changing to mixed mode would give us 5-10% extra capacity and could be achieved in weeks. It would buy us some time. Then we need to connect Northolt to Heathrow. The shorter runway there could accommodate some of the short-haul, narrow-body traffic that doesn’t need 12,000 feet of runway and wastes capacity at Heathrow. Then we need to look at the long term, which means another four to six runway airport properly connected to Network Rail or a comparable expansion at Stanstead or Gatwick. Other possibilites would be the recovery of Greenham Common, a 12,000ft runway with space for more that was thrown away when the Americans left. But we cannot stand idly by while Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt have virtually no capacity problems. In 20 years of airline flying, I have never had to hold when going into Paris Charles de Gaulle and I have only held once going into Amsterdam Schiphol.

  • Trebor64

    HS1 already exists and passes by lots of empty land in North Kent. An airport to the South East of London would be easily connected.

    • aristeides

      Yes, but what would be the point in connecting it to HS1?

      • Dan

        I would have thought that was fairly obvious, HS1 could link this airport directly to Stratford and St Pancras, and then a new link to the new HS2 could link the north. Boris Island really is the way forward in my opinion, fortune favours the brave on this matter, just a shame there is no such thing as a brave politician these days

        • aristeides

          It is not obvious because HS2 will not link into St Pancras or Stratford. It is insane.

  • jase

    kent not east london. bloody london creep is happening every where, even the london mayor thinks he has control over other counties. used to like boris but he is just another bumbling political idiot.

  • Daniel Maris

    The “Master Strategist” Osborne is going to lose the Tories at least ten seats in the London area with the Heathrow and H2R commitments.

    • dalai guevara

      Hear hear – let’s not go down the NIMBY route, shall we?

  • JohnMorrisHello

    The UK deserves more than the usual self-centred and London-centric slant to the debate. Birmingham has offered to take part but I don’t hold my breath. Meanwhile, Cheryl might wish to avail herself of a map. HS2 will call at Birmingham airport and by the time the Y network is complete, around 50% of the UK population will be around an hour from Birmingham Airport. Let’s have a proper debate about aviation. See John Morris, Public Affairs Director, Birmingham Airport

    • James Randall

      So where’s the UK’s hub airport going to be?

  • thief row

    Birmingham Airport should bid to be the next British mega hub airport. It suits more of the british population

    • Dan

      The airport hub should be in the South East close to London, as this is where the financial heartbeat of this country is. I can’t see business people wanting to fly into Birmingham, and then having to catch a train, taking an hour to get where the airport should have been in the first place. Hence why the new Wembley was kept in Wembley, and the Olympics in London, London is where it all happens, not the midlands.

  • ButcombeMan

    None of the major airlines will move from Heathrow unless it closes-at which point we give up as a nation. All other options especially “Boris Island” are ridiculous. O’Leary is right you cannot have a huge airport without infrastructure and workers. The freight and worker base and ancilliary services (engineering, catering, hotels, freight sheds etc) at LHR, is huge. Probably near 250,000 people. The communications to Boris Island non-existant.
    Hard on those in west London but inevitable. There are some plusses for them in terms of employment and wealth creation
    The four runway west of LHR is THE solution, get on and build the first of the four now.
    Cameron should stop messing about and get a grip. LHR West can be developed while keeping LHR East open.
    Boris is barmy and only interested in Boris.
    Cameron is ducking one of the most vital decisions of his premiership.
    He is marginally better than a vacancy.

    • James Randall

      So the answer to the problems associated with adding a 3rd runway at Heathrow is to move the airport a couple of miles to the west and make it a 4 runway airport? This really isn’t a well thought out plan.

      Firstly, moving it westwards will just expose residents in Windsor, Maidenhead and probably Reading to increased noise levels.

      Secondly, it isn’t going to make a lot of difference to the overall noise problems in west London.

      Third, adding a 4th runway will increase the amount of noise in the region.

      Fourth, building 4 runways and satellite buildings over the top of one of the busiest stretches of motorway in Europe would present significant difficulties.

      • ButcombeMan
      • HooksLaw

        Agreed. which is why the mistake in the original siting of our major airport needs rectifying now, before it is too late. A ‘hub’ needs 5 runways even more not just 3. I am not sure I am interested in the views of the chairman of RyanAir, we know whose interests he is in favour of.
        There is no denying that it would be a major undertaking, but that is no reason to say it should not be done. HS2 is not linked to Boris island because it does not exist yet, but there is no reason why it cannot be.

        In terms of infrastructure this is indeed a major issue and why it would take a long time to relocate. But Heathrow could still be retained as a cargo hub. Indeed the retention of a runway capability might assist its regeneration as some kind of high tech science and or entertainment park.

        But there is no reason to conflate high speed rail and new airports as one or the other. We need infrastructure full stop

      • itdoesntaddup

        There are other problems: planes failing to clear Windsor Castle on takeoff; the re-siting of the reservoirs that we are desperately short of in the first place.

  • James Randall

    Oh dear, it appears that Cheryl Gillan has decided herself that there are only four possible options to be considered as part of the review of airport capacity and seems to firmly favour the ill conceived “Boris Island” solution. It is a shame that most of the rest of her article is an anti HS2 piece, using the convenient fact that an airport to the east of London wouldn’t make any use of HS2.

    Let’s be realistic, if we want to link the rest of the UK up to Europe using high speed rail then let’s just get on and build HS2, ultimately extending it to Leeds and Manchester. As part of that scheme, to make sure the UK delivers the integrated transport policy that is oft talked about, make sure that the UK’s hub airport is on the route of HS2.

    • aristeides

      The problem with what you are saying (“let’s just get on and build HS2″) is that the current plane does not meet either of your qualifications. Firstly, it won’t link up with Eurostar, which terminates at St Pancras, as HS2 terminates at Euston, and, secondly, the UK’s hub airport is not on the route. I somehow doubt that Gillan would object to HS2 if it stuck to the route via Heathrow that the Conservatives supported until the last election, but what you say does not make sense.

      • James Randall

        Part of the HS2 plan is to link it to HS1

        As for HS2, I’m not saying the hub airport has to be at Heathrow

  • Bickers

    Why is Tim ‘Trougher’ Yeo being invited to this event. He’s a disgrace, taking his 30 pieces of silver from the renewables industry then sitting as chairman of the ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’ Climate Change/The Sun Comes Up in the Morning committee.

    As a Country we have truly lost the plot. If the people that powered the Enlightenment could see what’s going on today in the name of the scientific method they’d be appalled.

  • dalai guevara

    Vinci have just been selected to deliver a £184m upgrade to Gatwick, the Chinese have just aquired an undisclosed stake in Heathrow (now there’s the money for a new runway?). What is there not to like, it’s not all doom and gloom, is it?

    Let’s face it, Boris is not Mitterand.

    • HooksLaw

      You mean he has no bastard child?

      • dalai guevara

        no comment other than *innocent face*

    • aristeides

      The Chinese stake has been disclosed. It is 10%. Otherwise, how would you know about it?

      • dalai guevara

        Thanks for that – it has now been disclosed to me.

  • itsfullofstars

    By the time Birmingham Airport have finished their redevelopment, I think they will qualify as a major airport.

  • Archimedes

    I sympathise with your position, but it’s getting a little boring the way that now, having been discharged from cabinet, you are taking every opportunity to attack a government whose policies, until recently, you were equally responsible for shaping and defending. One would think that, having been a member of parliament for twenty years, you would be able to exercise a little more control over the rectitude of your character.

    • vix

      Agree. She also starts out making the argument of global status and finishes with mere ‘international travellers’. Yes we want travellers but why have a massive infrastructure project to satisfy demand when Birmingham, Edinburgh, and at least half a dozen other airports with expansion would do. Big business doesn’t all belong in London and not all tourism starts and ends in London.
      And I am delighted the Dutch, a mere 240km away are offering such a service. Why doesn’t Leeds, a similar distance, do the same.
      And if the tax payer is backing any of this, lets see aviation fuel duty the way is it applied to the driver.
      Are we just backing more private toughing here?

      • vix

        Make that troughing. My spell checker’s like government and keeps telling me what I want…

      • James Randall

        Taking your suggestion, if Leeds wants to offer a “hub airport service” it would need to build at least one additional runway and then convince some of the world’s biggest airlines to move from London

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