Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A nightmare versus a dream

The fact that the Conservatives won't oppose Zac Goldsmith in the by-election for Richmond Park says it all. What more eloquent testimony could there be for their lack of conviction that "this is the right thing for the country", as Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, has adopted as his mantra? If it is, then make the case so persuasively that the residents of Harmondsworth, Harlington, Sipson, Longford, and Richmond vote for you. See how those directly affected by the environmental pollution vote. They might agree.
Photo : Premier

The project will apparently generate employment for thousands and billions of pounds of national wealth. What's not apparent is why this proposal would generate more than any others - except perhaps in demolishing 950 homes and resettling their occupants, presumably in places not of their choosing, and bulldozing an ancient church and village green. As too often with current governmental decisions, the public rationale is financial and not human. Value for money is elevated above quality of life. There is the implicit accusation of selfish nimbyism. "Take a hit for the rest of us" has been the political philosophy of the past couple of administrations, addressed to the most vulnerable within society - the easiest to target.

However, it's all very well to be negative. What better solution is there? The London airport commission, we are told, thoroughly examined the alternatives and ruled in favour of a third Heathrow runway. Clearly I've not read the report, but I strongly suspect that its overriding criteria were economic. Reluctant though I am to admit any merits in one of Boris Johnson's madcap dreams, I do in fact think that his Thames Estuary island scheme was the most visionary. A brand new hub airport with approaches over the sea and 21st-century infrastructure into London would of course cost more than building an extra runway, but as the Transport Secretary has been at pains to affirm it would be provided by private finance. And the human cost would be far less. Maybe it would impinge on the good burgers of Essex and Kent, were the flight paths badly delineated. Yet one could envisage an eventual reduction in the impact of Heathrow as it ceased to be the hub airport for London, the UK and the world.

I recall the days when there were soundings for a new London airport in rural Buckinghamshire (for example at Wing). Fortunately those were binned. Hopefully Heathrow's third runway will go the same way, and Boris Island will rise from the waves. Now that would be a small legacy to offset the disaster of Brexit.