November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Last week's foray into transport policy by UK Conservative leader David Cameron was a fairly rare sighting of the Tories in the aviation debate, but nonetheless welcome.
The other two British political parties - Labour and Liberal Democrats - have hardly been falling over themselves either to enter the transport bear pit apart from the usual comments concerning the vertiginous oil price - and it”s high time the issue came front of mind again.
There are surely two aspects of politics above all that concern ordinary voters. Education, health, the armed services et al are of course of great interest to everyone, but, apart from crime, surely it's transport that dominates and affects virtually every single one of us and every single day at that?
So well done to Cameron for wading in with his two penny” worth although the usual politician”s vagueness is there: ”We need big changes in our infrastructure” tackling our worst road bottlenecks, opening up the capacity of our ports,” etc, are very long on dramatic flourish and woefully short on policy detail. We shouldn”t be surprised I suppose this long from a general election.
However, it”s when he lays into Heathrow that the real questions start. Cameron sets himself four-square against a third runway, maintaining this is ”political posturing” and not proper analysis.
Well, that”s political posturing itself isn”t it? If there is to be no third runway, where exactly are thhundreds of thousands of extra passengers supposed to be funnelled through? It”s all very well for the Conservative leader to put up ideas of ”making Heathrow better,” ” we can all sing from the same hymn sheet there ” but how does he suggest we cope with the expected 700,000 flights by 2030 that he mentions?
Heathrow is bursting at the seams. Even with the new developments, that will see a new East terminal built and all the ”Move under one Roof” improvements, passengers will still spend inordinate amounts of time in frustrating traffic jams waiting to take off.
What we need is additional runway capacity. Urgently. Cameron”s assertion that: ”Gordon Brown is pig-headedly pursing a third runway just to try and prove a political point ” what a ridiculous way to plan for the future,” is sheer politicking. Brown will clearly not win any kudos from local residents for backing a third runway, but the business community supports it as presumably would those benefiting from job creation prospects.
Given the relative paucity of Cameron”s previous pronouncements on the subject, can we now expect transport to move up his ” and the other parties” agendas?
How about addressing the bizarre fact that Stansted looks likely to secure a second runway when its business passenger base ” surely the vast majority of its customers are on discretionary, leisure flights ” is not particularly high.
Why aren”t the parties collectively looking at additional capacity at Gatwick? Despite the headlong dash by some US carriers to Heathrow, the business travel case for the Sussex airport is far greater and coupled with its surface links make it an attractive destination. Politicians need to be braver in addressing the Nimby question or is that equally too much to expect before any election?
Maybe they”re all banking on the oil price forcing us all to fly less and that predicted demand simply won”t happen. But the genie is out of the bottle and although we may have to tighten our belts for the foreseeable future, air travel is not going to go away. Cameron”s comments are a welcome stimulus to debate, but it needs to go much further across all parties.