The decision to expand should be seen as a political failureby David Howarth, Steven Griggs / November 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Announcing the government’s decision to support a third runway at Heathrow Airport, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said that the new proposals were “best for our future, and best for the whole country and its regions.” The “truly momentous” decision to expand, he claimed, will improve the UK’s international connections, while increasing foreign trade and creating jobs.
Politicians across the divide, apart from the Greens and Liberal Democrats, rallied to support the government. Ominously though, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith resigned his Richmond Park seat to fight a byelection as an independent and collective cabinet responsibility was loosened to accommodate dissenting voices, most notably Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell remain against expansion, though once again they stand opposed to most of their parliamentary party.
Most business leaders and unions welcomed the long-anticipated decision, stressing its vital role in stimulating economic growth, especially in a post-Brexit world. Heathrow is running at 98 per cent of its capacity, and the demand for more flights shows little sign of waning. But once the dust has settled and the trumpeting ended, what are we to make of the decision?
Is this truly a triumph of leadership, an end to dithering and the action of a government of “builders” committed to ensuring Britain’s future? Perhaps a little less spin and a little more caution would not go amiss. In reality, the May government’s support for Heathrow expansion is the outcome of a series of political failures and policy reversals that is likely to end in tears. Here are six reasons why.
First, the belated decision to expand Heathrow is a failure of leadership. Before David Cameron became Prime Minister, he made a “no ifs, no buts” promise that there would be no new runway, and the coalition declared a moratorium on expansion in May 2010. But in 2012, after an intense campaign led by business, supporters of Heathrow and London First, the coalition agreed to set up the Airports Commission and thus reopened the case. What is more, the commission’s brief was to examine where the new capacity should be—Gatwick, Heathrow or even “Boris Island”—rather than whether there should be expansion in the southeast. Finally, the aviation industry’s demand for hub capacity (in which an airport is a stepping…