Never trust a politician
So, we now know. George Osborne has spoken. He told yesterdays Financial Times: “There is no softening on the question of a third runway at Heathrow."It’s an attempt to scotch the rumours that have resurfaced again big time this weekend that the Government is about to do a U-turn on the third runway at the behest of the Chancellor.
Of course, we don’t know the private thoughts of Mr Osborne about Heathrow. We do know he likes big infrastructure. He keeps telling us that it’s essential for economic growth. That may include a new runway at Heathrow. But he’s been forced to say that the Tories won’t build one. He knows that, if people think they will renege on their promise, Boris wouldn’t be elected as Mayor of London. He knows, too, that Transport Secretary Justine Greening, who has been a vocal and effective opponent of a third runway, would need to resign. And Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith has said he would resign his seat and force a by-election if the Tories changed their mind. A U-turn would also be a gift to Labour leader Ed Milliband now that his party has dropped its support for a third runway.
Deep down, I suspect, George and Ed, and particularly Justine, know that a third runway at Heathrow has become impossible to build. They don’t want to face Plane Stupid on the roof of Parliament again, far less the thousands of people who would lose their homes or the hundreds of thousands under the Heathrow flight path.
Some in the industry, like BAA, seem still to cling to their impossible dream that one day they will get their third runway. This is a big reason for their current campaign for more airport capacity and for the adverts plastered all over the London Underground: “The road to economic recovery isn’t a road – it’s a flight path.”
However, most in business and the aviation industry would settle for a new runway anywhere in the south-east. And this is where Osborne is dangerous. Last year he said in his autumn statement the Government would "explore all options for maintaining the UK's aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow". And recently David Cameron told big business “I'm not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the south-east” before adding pointedly “Gatwick is emerging as a business airport for London, under a new owner competing with Heathrow”.
Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne, CO2 does the same harm to the environment whether the plane comes from Heathrow or Gatwick. Plane Stupid are booking our train tickets for Gatwick. Singles. Returns won’t be necessary until you get serious on the climate science and drop all airport expansion plans.