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
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.