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MS-06 Airport Expansion
Today, I am announcing that Her Majesty’s Government has looked at the Airport Commission Report and have given it a proper study of the merits and demerits of Heathrow expansion. Our concern for the expansion of Heathrow is three-fold. First, the noise and environmental pollution cost does not justify not considering alternative plan. Millions of Londoners would be impacted by the noise pollution alone. Simultaneously, the need for more parking structures leads us to believe that environmental concerns are substantial. Second, the loss of housing for many leads us to believe that expansion’s costs do not justify the negative impact. While it is clearly understood that those who give up their homes to make way for expansion will be more than fairly compensated; there are some things that cannot be justified regardless of pounds and pence. What Heathrow expansion is asking for these people to do is to uproot their lives and move away from their homes and communities. At the same time we see that those very community members do not want an expansion. It is imperative that we listen to those impacted and bend our ear to those who would be uprooted. Finally, because of the lack of desire in the community, it can be clearly foreshadowed that expansion would take a substantial amount of time, much of which would be stalled in approvals and litigation. These types of actions take up the resources of the courts, stop a needed expansion project, and cause the local community pain and hardship. For these reasons, we cannot accept the majority report recommending Heathrow expansion.
Therefore, we are focusing on moving forward to expand Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. We believe that the minority report raises good opportunities for development. There is lower health risk for environmental pollution and the noise pollution impact would be noticeably less. West Sussex Council has been open to the expansion with hopes that a second runway be in use by 2019.
Calvin Ward Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
It is certainly nice to have the House informed of major government decisions, if a bit later in the process than might be desired or normal practice.
I need to start this discussion off by giving the Government the benefit of the doubt that they allowed themselves to be quietly led by the Airports Commission. On a review of the report*, I am concerned that the Airports Commission basically decided on Heathrow or Gatwick to the exclusion of other alternatives, basically creating a channel of poor options into which the government was guided. I also find that the report was painfully path-dependent...that is to say, it presumes that current airport use patterns will continue regardless.
Now, I stand by my view that expanding Heathrow was, and is, a poor decision due to development in the region. If Heathrow was still in a relatively rural, undeveloped area there would be little question that it was the right choice, and it arguably beats the Gatwick option. That is not saying much, but it still bears saying. The fact is, simply put, that the Airports Commission basically decided to take two of the worst options available and weigh them against one another.
Mr. Speaker, there are three better options to consider versus the Gatwick alternative: Stansted, Luton, or a new airport. None of these options got so much as a batted eyelash in the report. Luton and Stansted both benefit from being north of London rather than south of London, and thus more accessible to people living somewhere not in London. The strongest arguments against Gatwick center around its relative inaccessibility to the rest of the country. Luton, and to a lesser extent Stansted, are located on lines which offer access to the rest of the UK rather than forcing transfers. Both are also located in relatively undeveloped areas, which would limit the disruption that such an expansion would cause.
But all of this excludes what, in the long term, would likely be the best alternative and is thus the alternative that we would propose: The construction of a new airport in the vicinity of Milton Keynes, along the West Coast Mainline, with the capacity to act as a hub. Coupled with improvements to the WCML to improve capacity and, potentially, speed such an airport would only be about forty minutes from London Euston and less than one hour from Birmingham on present express timetables**, and with little effort the railway station for the airport could be located directly on the Main Line, permitting regular services to stop there rather than requiring the use of either a special service or a clumsy transfer.
The use of a "clean slate" airport, designed from the start as a hub for modern airliners rather than being adapted from an existing site or one initially planned for propeller planes in the 1940s, would provide the greatest flexibility in optimizing design for twenty first century travel. As things stand, the Heathrow expansion proposal has long been kludged in poorly amid existing constraints and requires working around the constraints of a near-capacity airport during construction. A new airport does not require this.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I can already hear the objections in line with many of the new, remote airports that were built in the twentieth century. Most of those projects got into difficulty for one reason, namely the lack of public transport connections...often promised and not followed through on. In this case, the connection already exists rather than needing to be built. Only the relatively limited cost of a new rail station will be absolutely necessary to provide good service, with further improvements acting as feathers in the cap, so to speak. Even in the most infamous case, Mirabel airport, distance wasn't the culprit in the airport's difficulties...the government's failure to provide anything even vaguely resembling a passable transport connection was the main culprit, combined with a decline in the need to use Montreal as a technical stop on flights through to Toronto and other destinations.
In conjunction with the provision for such an airport, we would also seek to work with the TOCs on the route to make provision for through-checking of baggage from the major on-route stations to flights, rather than requiring at-airport checking of baggage. Such luggage would be required to go through a normal checked-luggage screening process, but enabling such a process would expedite travel for hundreds of thousands of passengers every year.
I readily concede that all choices on this front have their drawbacks, but our alternative has both the greatest upsides for the UK in terms of connectivity, flexibility, and potential. The alternatives that the Airport Commission came back with were questionable at best, and when given such a bad report the government really needs the strength to send such a report back to from whence it came with an attached note to try again.
*OOC: Presuming it is reasonably close to the IRL report.
**OOC: Virgin Trains runs a 30-minute Euston-Milton Keynes service on an hourly basis right now.
Steven Andrews, MP for Croydon South
34 Policy/18 Media/23 Parliamentary
Ward announces Gatwick expansion (Let's pretend I wrote this before last night's PMQs). A statement to the point but no response to the Tories.
A detailed reply from the Shadow Chancellor, sadly no response.
1 + Parliament Andrews