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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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue