Prime Minister David Cameron has completed his cabinet reshuffle and he has replaced Justine Greening as Transport Minister .
Greening is MP for Roehampton & Southfields, directly under the airport’s flight path , and her mission was to stop the development of a third runway at Heathrow Airport .In the end she was only able to prevent the government giving the green light in this parliament.
The question is now not when but how the Conservatives do a massive a u-turn on the third runway. It looks as if they want another enquiry to delay the decision until after the next election.
Patrick McLoughlin, who will take over as transport secretary, has declared he has an “open mind” on the expansion of Britain’s only hub airport, joining chancellor George Osborne in a cabinet which increasingly favours a third runway, with the business case trumping environmental concerns.
While the party will suffer in seats close to the airport, they have calculated the economic recovery must take precedence.
The business community has been baying for additional capacity to connect to growing markets in Asia and South America for years, and it now seems certain the Conservatives will include support for a third runway in their manifesto for the 2015 election.
Operating Heathrow as a ‘mixed-mode’ airport would increase capacity by as much as a quarter, but would again breach noise restrictions as planes approach from different directions.
Short-haul flights could also be barred from precious Heathrow landing slots, allowing only long-haul traffic to use limited resources. This might work in the short-term but is no solution.
Gatwick could be expanded, or even Stansted, with second runways at either. But, in reality, the UK can maintain only one hub airport.
‘Heathwick’ – a high-speed rail link between Gatwick and Heathrow – was swiftly rejected last year after being put forward by civil servants.
This would leave only Boris’s fantasy island in the Thames.
Not only is the planned location in one of the most congested flight paths in Europe, on the approach to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, that path covers five separate Special Protection Areas packed with wildlife.
Environmentalists could delay the project for years, while birds would also be hazardous to planes.
Funding for the £40 billion project is also far from assured, with some even suggesting a levy on planes landing at Heathrow could be imposed: a hard sell to British Airways, which would effectively be asked to pay for the demolition of its established base.
As for the transport connections? After the years it took to have Crossrail approved, it is hard to imagine Boris Island and its required infrastructure being approved by 2050, if ever.
Outspoken as always, leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson rose to the challenge earlier, with a statement from the mayor exclaiming: “The third runway would mean more traffic, more noise, more pollution – and a serious reduction in the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.
“We will fight this all the way. Even if a third runway was built, it would not do the job of meeting Britain’s needs.
“If we are to remain Europe’s premier business hub we need a new four-runway airport, preferably to the east of London, that addresses the problem of aviation capacity before it is too late, and business is driven into the arms of our European competitors.”
From the point of view of airports in Scotland like Edinburgh and Glasgow, any development which brings more passengers into Britain would be a good thing as a proportion of those flyers will terminate their journey in Scotland.