The preliminary report on London’s airports is due to be published in the next few days. Rumour suggests that it will not be taking up the plan for the new airport, somewhere in the Thames estuary, that has been actively promoted by the Mayor, Boris Johnson.
Mr Johnson is said to be apoplectic and determined to fight any plan to increase Heathrow.
The novelist Will Self described Boris Johnson as “an enigma wrapped in a whoopee cushion. I can accept the whoopee cushion bit but I don’t think Mr Johnson is at all enigmatic. He is simply a – very clever – Machiavellian politician.
As London’s Mayor there was no way he could support development at Heathrow because there is such a large group of people in west London who are opposed to it. These people seem unaware of the damage that the possible closure of Heathrow would do to their local economies. The economic benefits of Heathrow stretch from the areas around the airport where the staff live right the way through to Hammersmith and the West End where international corporations have built offices for easy access to the airport.
The plan for “Boris Island” was a very smart diversionary tactic He surely knew that the British aversion to big projects made this a non-starter but by pushing for it he was able to make two important points. London needs one major hub airport with several runways and expanding Gatwick and Stansted will not help.
So, knowing full well that his plan did not stand a chance, he was able to make the argument for a major hub airport with the inevitable logic that if Boris Island was rejected, the only possible solution would be expansion of Heathrow.
In interviews, he has even said that expansion of Heathrow is the obvious solution and would be much cheaper before going on to extol the virtues of the mythical Boris Island.
It is interesting that the London Evening Standard has pursued a similar line in its editorials. It cannot possibly support expansion of Heathrow and yet, they have been at pains to point out the serious downsides of all the other options.
Heathrow needs three – ideally four – runways. If it only gets one extra, then they really should not be allowed to increase traffic by very much at all. A “spare” runway is essential back-up to stop the dreadful delays that come after the most minor problems with the two over-used existing ones. Even if they add two new runways, traffic should not increase by very much. Bigger aircraft, and especially quieter aircraft, could ensure that noise levels do not increase – and might even diminish.
Hopefully, Boris will get the result he really wants – and be able to deny any responsibility for it.