Corporate lobbyists prepare ground for Heathrow expansion
News that Heathrow is proposing not one, but two new runways in its submission to the Davies Commission on aviation expansion, is the culmination of a crafty lobbying strategy that swung into action as soon as the last election was over.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats won votes in London for their commitment to overturn New Labour's decision to go ahead with a third runway. As soon as David Cameron got his feet under the table, that policy was rolling backwards.
Corporate lobbyists told him he would eventually have to agree and suggested how to do it. Set up an enquiry, they said, shift the debate away from whether new capacity is needed at all, in light of runaway climate change, to be about where in the south-east new capacity will be.
Let everyone put forward their views – even Bonkers Boris and his hair brained island gateway plan.
Get Howard Davies, former head of the Confederation of British Industry – one of the main cheerleaders for airport expansion – to finalise his commission’s report after the next election, so it is not an issue in London. Then whichever party is in power can study it carefully – and then give Heathrow and the airline industry what it wants.
The Financial Times has called the Davies Commission a "battle of ideas", but it is no such thing. It is just underhand chicanery to circumvent popular opposition in London, including in Tory or Lib-Dem strongholds like Richmond and Kingston.
Heathrow made the astonishing claim that by adding a third, and then a fourth, runway they would be able to reduce the noise nuisance. They must think we are plane stupid.
The new runway will increase the number of flights by 54% from 480,000 to 740,000 each year. About 250,000 people are already deemed to be suffering from noise nuisance so how can more than doubling the number of flights make it quieter?
Heathrow runs at 98% capacity, unlike rivals at Paris Charles De Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt which all have spare capacity. They want to use it to add more long-haul flights to the industrial and commercial hubs in India, China, Brazil and Russia. Heathrow does not want to be left behind.
Whilst Heathrow has proposed three possible sites for a third runway – either to the north, northwest or southwest of the existing airport – this may be no more than a trick. The southern route would put wealthy homeowners in Richmond and Twickenham under the flight path. One of the northern routes would require demolition of the village of Harmondsworth.
The second northern route is almost the same as the original proposal and would mean demolition of 2,500 homes in Harlington, Cranford Cross and Sipson and this is the one Heathrow wants.
However, they were at pains to stress that it is the government that will make the final decision, adding a figleaf of democratic accountability over the whole sordid adventure.
The government's advisory Committee on Climate Change has written to Davies, reminding him that aviation emissions are included in the UK's legally binding emissions reduction targets.
The target, which is to reduce economy-wide emissions by 80% against 1990 levels by 2050, can only be achieved if aviation emissions are reduced to 2005 levels by 2050.
This is totally incompatible with Heathrow's plans for airport expansion. Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, which owns Heathrow, Stansted and Aberdeen airports, is itself owned by a holding company called FGP Topco. It is in turn wholly owned by Spanish firm Ferrovial.
This year the Chinese Investment Corporation – aka the Chinese government – bought a 10% stake in Heathrow and the Qatar government sovereign wealth fund is waiting for European competition regulators to rule on whether it can buy a 20% stake.
These investments are for one purpose only – to get a return on capital that makes it a business proposition. So, in the end, neither the quality of life for Londoners nor the dangers of climate change will be deciding factor. As always, it will be business as usual.
18 July 2013