There is no alternative

For the benefit of the whole of the country, the government must allow Heathrow airport to expand.

 The recent flurry of proposals to the Airports Commission on how to deal with capacity come hot on the heels of the Transport Committee’s report on Aviation Strategy. In preparing our report we spent nine months gathering written and oral evidence from business groups, local campaigners, environmental groups, airlines, airport operators, air traffic managers, and many others.
 
UK airports handled a staggering 221 million passengers in 2012, 1.4 million more than in 2011. The latest passenger forecasts predict that unconstrained demand at UK airports—with no airspace constraints or capacity limitations—will be 320 mppa (million passengers per annum) by 2030 and 480 mppa by 2050. 
 
The UK aviation sector had a turnover in 2011 of around £53bn and generated around £18bn of economic output. Aviation also supports the economy by providing businesses across all sectors with greater connectivity to international markets. Hub airports like Heathrow are vital for connecting incoming transfer passengers and making flights out to new destinations more viable.  
 
For many years Heathrow has operated with two runways at full capacity while other competitor hubs, such as Paris, Frankfurt and Schiphol, have benefitted from having four to six runways each. Alongside this, the growth of large hubs in the Middle East has threatened the UK’s position as an international aviation hub. 
 
We looked closely at the main options to address the critical issue of aviation capacity in the UK. We rejected ideas for a new hub to the east of London, including plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary area, as research we commissioned showed significant public funding (£10-30bn) would be required. There were additional concerns around the impact on wildlife habitats, risk of birdstrike and problems with overcrowded airspace. Significantly, our research showed that the development of a new hub airport, regardless of its exact location, would mean the closure of Heathrow. This would have unacceptable consequences for the economy in and around west London and the M4 corridor. 
 
We also rejected the notion of linking existing airports by high-speed rail to form a split-hub due to uncompetitive connection times. Nor would it be feasible to move flights to other regions or airports with spare capacity. Airlines are commercial entities and operate where there is a viable market. Ultimately, we concluded that expansion of Heathrow is the best option.  
 
We recognise that the main argument against expansion of Heathrow is environmental. Noise, in particular, is a significant issue for the hundreds of thousands of people living nearby. It is important to remember that Heathrow did not start out surrounded by quite so many people. A new hub to the east of London might, in due course, also have a large local population with similar concerns about noise. Nevertheless, if Heathrow expands it is essential that its environmental impacts are properly addressed. Local air quality should be improved, planes must get quieter, flight paths and landing angles should be reviewed, and a comprehensive approach to noise compensation must be developed. Shifting Heathrow’s new runway to the west, away from people under the flight path might also reduce noise annoyance. Heathrow’s recent proposals address this issue.
 
Looking at the UK’s broader aviation strategy, we concluded that an expanded Heathrow could better serve the whole of the UK by providing protected slots to flights from regions that are currently poorly connected. We also made recommendations on how the Government should support airports outside the south east, improve road and rail infrastructure around existing airports, and address concerns about the level of taxation, particularly Air Passenger Duty.
 
It is, however, hub capacity that remains the main unresolved issue in the UK’s aviation strategy. It can no longer be avoided. Our recommendation is clear: for the benefit of the whole of the UK, the government must allow Heathrow to expand. 
 
Louise Ellman MP is chair of House of Commons transport select committee. 
To read its report in full go to: tinyurl.com/hoc-aviation
 
London Heathrow. Photograph: Getty
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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.