As the government prepares to do a U-turn to allow a third runway at Heathrow, we can expect the debate about noise pollution over South East London to reignite. BC lurks under the same skies as everyone else, so we’re not indifferent to the noise. And we like big, shiny ambitious and innovative projects, so we have been tempted by Boris Island a few times.
However, we now don’t see any realistic alternative to expanding Heathrow. Here’s why:
1. People want to fly long-haul and there’s no low-carbon alternative. To cut carbon, we’ll have to find bigger savings elsewhere and force civil aviation to continue to improve fuel efficiency.
2. London’s long-term economic future depends on being a global hub for business and tourism. Failing to properly serve emerging markets like China and India will damage our competitiveness.
3. Not creating more capacity in London won’t cut CO2 – the Chinese will still fly to Europe, just not to London. They’ll go to Paris or Frankfurt (not Birmingham or Manchester).
4. If you were starting with a blank sheet of paper, you wouldn’t put our hub airport west of London. But we are not starting with a a blank sheet of paper.
5. The problem with the Thames Estuary alternative isn’t a technical one, it’s economic – the whole of the South Eastern economy revolves around Heathrow. Office developments from Hammersmith to Reading are where they are because of it. Northerners might grumble about having to travel to Heathrow, but they’d flip if they had to head to Kent. To finance a new hub airport, you’d have to close and redevelop Heathrow. Too many vested interests are stacked against it. We’d be locked in debate for another twenty years and the problem is too urgent.
6. So Heathrow it is. And we may as well just get on with it – and work out how to minimise noise pollution for those parts of London under the flightpath.