Some are arguing that the debate about Heathrow’s third runway is just a London issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Decisions on aviation policy will have a profound effect on whether Manchester Airport can continue to help create jobs and grow in the Greater Manchester economy.
Some commentators see the removal of Justine Greening, someone who directly opposed the building of an additional runway, as Secretary of State for Transport as a sign that David Cameron is preparing to break his pledge on no Heathrow expansion. Even Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson said “There can be only one reason to move her – and that is to expand Heathrow Airport”.
The Liberal Democrat position on this has been clear and consistent. Our 2010 manifesto stated clearly that we will “cancel plans for the third runway at Heathrow”.
The government position is also clearly set out in the ‘Energy and Climate Change’ section of the Coalition Agreement which states “we will cancel the third runaway at Heathrow”.
Not only is aviation a serious problem in the fight against climate change but a new runway is unnecessary.
The UK currently has enough airport capacity until 2030. Manchester Airport alone handles more than 20 million passengers a year but has capacity for 50 million without the need for additional runways.
Every £1m passengers creates about 1000 jobs. Regional airports and other airports within London can meet demand for years to come. Birmingham Airport is looking to expand, Stansted is only half full, Gatwick is expanding into emerging markets. Luton is also looking to expand. A third runway at Heathrow is not needed, and would have an unacceptable impact on local residents.
Supporters of a third runway always argue that the UK can only have one hub airport and that Heathrow must be allowed to expand to retain its status as a hub. They point out that Heathrow’s European competitors have more runways and more capacity. This is undoubtedly the case, but it doesn’t stop airlines from wanting to fly to Heathrow. Unfettered Heathrow expansion simply allows the “need” for a third runway to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
At the upcoming Liberal Democrat conference the party will consider a motion which calls for an evidence-based study to find a suitable location for a hub airport but it must consider “the need to serve North and South” as well as ensure “no net increase in the number of UK runways”. These are all important factors when considering how to ensure the UK remains open for business but without damaging the environment or disturbing the lives of people living near airports.
The PM has appointed Sir Howard Davies to chair a commission into the UK’s airport capacity which will not report until after the next general election. The UK’s airports have capacity for at least another 20 years so the commission needs to take a full and clear look at all of the possible options, knowing there is no need to rush, and come to a decision over airport expansion that meets the needs of the country as a business leader but also protects our environmental goals and safeguards people who live near airports.