Monday, 25 June 2018

Against Heathrow Expansion

You just have to look at the state of Parliament over Heathrow expansion to understand why successive governments have put off voting on it for donkey's years. Depending on who you listen to, between 40 and 100 Labour MPs are to vote with the government to give the third runway the nod. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn was forced to allow a free as opposed to a whipped vote, not least because Chief Whip Nick Brown is counted among those set on supporting the expansion. Meanwhile, the Tories aren't exactly a happy family either. Boris Johnson has conveniently scuttled off to avoid lying down in front of the bulldozers, while his colleagues have taken to Twitter to mock and troll the oaf.

Nevertheless, there is a clear and unambiguous case against Heathrow and those set to file through the no lobby are right to do so. There are a couple of very obvious reasons. Let's take economic development first. It's a rare occasion you see Len McCluskey and Chris Grayling line up on the same side of an issue, but here we are. In his letter to Labour MPs, the Unite General Secretary argues the third runway would lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs, a great many of whom would be unionised. For Grayling it's about sending a message to the world, and no doubt an expanded Heathrow has pride of place in his post-Brexit great trading nation fantasies. Alas, there are significant problems with the economic case.

There is the promised greater connectivity with the rest of the UK. A new runway means it's easier to reach Scotland and Northern Ireland ... provided there's a market for it, which our jolly friend Willie Walsh has pooh poohed. Second, it reinforces the regional economic divide. Despite claims of setting up regional manufacturing hubs to support the construction, this isn't what you can call a sustainable business. You can only build an extra runway the once. Additionally, by concentrating more capacity in the South East how is that going to trickle outwards, exactly? As we've seen from the last two decades of London first, the capital has centralised the British economy to an unprecedented degree at the expense of investment elsewhere. Now we're seeing serious dysfunctions in the housing market and transport network, people are increasingly getting priced out of the city, thereby undermining the human foundations of the gilded edifice. Adding another runway is only going to pile on more London centrism and sharpen the contradictions further. If that wasn't bad enough, according to the government's own figures a good chunk of this growth, of those "new jobs" we can expect are purchased by taking business from regional airports, doubling down on the geographical imbalances. And lastly it's worth noting the huge question mark hanging over the funding of the expansion, which taxpayers could easily end up carrying the can for.

From the straightforward standpoint of mainstream economic development, the third runway is a dud. But worst of all, there is the environmental case to answer. Not least because of the extra noise pollution, the construction, the despoliation of green space, there is also the small matter of climate change. On the day a zero emission tidal lagoon is rejected, giving Heathrow the go ahead underlines the Tories' disinterest in the building global emergency. If only flood waters were discriminating and could wreck the houses of short sighted MPs first, eh? There are real opportunities not only in climate change mitigation, such as flood defence, but also in renewables and associated technologies like carbon capture and storage, energy batteries/storage, and superfast telecommunications so business travel becomes less of necessity (not that much of it is already). Over the last eight years, first in coalition and then on their own the Tories have stymied progress by virtually scrapping funding commitments to renewables, as well as presiding over the worst air pollution crisis for decades. Yet they're more than happy to bend over backwards for fracking.

Why are the Tories determined to blunt the markets for renewables and carry on as if climate change isn't real? You can point to the long-standing and incestuous relationship between the party and, yes, that certainly has a lot to do with it. But never underestimate Tory short-termism. They want to be able to point to GDP numbers to say everything is okay. With Brexit gearing up to give a stagnating economy a clout it could do without, the very act of setting Heathrow's expansion into motion, the speeding up of fracking and getting shale gas into the pipelines all help finesse the figures, so the Tories can go to the country with the usual 'Britain is booming, don't let Labour wreck it' nonsense. That, in the long term, it piles up economic and social problems and is reckless as far as climate change goes doesn't matters. It's other people far away who'll feel the consequences long before they manifest in the leafy constituencies of our stupid and carefree rulers.


Speedy said...

Dear me.

"Additionally, by concentrating more capacity in the South East how is that going to trickle outwards, exactly?"

Er... tax? Have you seen London's contribution compared to the rest of the UK?

"From the straightforward standpoint of mainstream economic development, the third runway is a dud."

Based on no evidence whatsoever.

Speedy said...

Just in case you were wondering.

asquith said...

I'm in full agreement, mainly for the obvious environmental reasons and also because it will further the Londonisation of the country despite the woo that's being talked about how it will benefit the regions in some magical way.

The politics don't make sense either. Why did the government bring it in in the first place? There's no urgent need out there in reality and I can't fathom what led to the political decision, though they can rely on the cravenness of ministers, backbenchers and the DUP, and the determination of the Ruth Smeeths of this world to further the Blairite agenda.

Depressing as an environmentalist to see this comes bottom of the list again but at least one party was united against it!

David Timoney said...

Your assumption that superfast telecommunications makes business travel less of a necessity is incorrect.

In fact, improved comms has been a key factor in globalisation, allowing firms to establish long-distance relationships where previously they would have relied more on local suppliers and customers. As any relationship requires some face-to-face interaction (negotiating contracts, market research etc), this results in more international travel and thus flights.

It never ceases to amaze me that IT has long been held up as a solution to environmental degradation (remember when we were all going to be remote working from crofter cottages in the Highlands?), when it is actually a primary driver.

Anonymous said...

I cannot see Chuka Umanna in the lists of MPs' votes. Does anyone know what his position is on Heathrow expansion? Did he abstain or was his name missed from the tally of votes? Did he bravely run away like Brave Sir Boris?


ActonMan said...

Maybe Boris, with his estuarial airport and Heathrow 'garden city', was onto something! Then we'd have an improved environment in west London with a wide range of employment opportunities. Otherwise the present 'Enemy of the People' type justification for potentially anti-social projects because they 'create jobs' will continue to trap us.