The London Airport nondecision fiasco

In business, it is essential to be fast on your feet, identifying new opportunities and reacting to threats as quickly as possible.

In public life, decisions are taken far more slowly, if at all, and, often, for all the wrong reasons.

A prime example of this has been the lack of a decision to fulfil the market need for the expansion of London Airport.

Our political leaders have been aware of this issue since well before December 2006, when the Department for Transport ‘published a progress report on the strategy’ which led, in November 2007 to a public consultation.

The plan was supported by businesses, the aviation industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.

But it was cancelled on 12 May 2010 by the new coalition government.

Instead, in September 2012, an independent commission was established and will report in summer 2015 – just weeks after the next general election.

A couple of weeks ago, there was another row as opposing forces clashed.

What is all the fuss about?

Well, by some quirk of history, the aeroplanes that take off and land at Heathrow Airport fly right over London, our most populous city.

Their noise plays a constant, minute-by-minute, rumbling groan overhead.

The closer to Heathrow they fly, over Vauxhall, Battersea, Wandsworth, Putney, Richmond and onwards and upwards and downwards, the more the rumbling groan becomes a roar and then a boom and then, as they pass over Windsor Castle, a crescendo. What must the Queen think of a Sunday morning?

Have you heard the noise Her Majesty has to endure?

Sorry, didn’t you hear that?

HAVE YOU HEARD THE NOISE HER MAJESTY HAS TO ENDURE?!

You get the picture.

And, would you believe it, some people think we should build another runway at Heathrow so we can endure even more traffic and – you guessed it – more noise! MORE NOISE! MORE NOISE! 

See?

There are various options are under consideration, including Boris Island.

Flushed with his global success at the London Olympics, Boris wants to build a new airport in the Thames Estuary. This way, the noise of the aeroplane traffic is above water rather than people and, in the most public way possible, London can be seen as the vibrant, forward-thinking, prosperous capital city the Olympics revealed us to be.

Inevitably, there are Nimbies on either side:

The anti-Boris nimbies complain about the bird life that will be affected. The Heathrow-expansion nimbies rail about more congestion in our green and pleasant land – and of course more noise! MORE NOISE! Not again…

Here is the business perspective:

1. Bigger and better airport facilities are a need – not a want. The leaders of 35 of our  biggest companies stressed this in a letter to the papers.

2. The opposing views of the Nimbies are not going away. Their objections will not change over time. Although one can understand both sides of the argument, delaying the decision will not sway these people either way. Their positions have been fixed for years.

Well, that is not quite true. A year ago, a helicopter crashed to the ground in Vauxhall, London. The pilot and a pedestrian were killed.

Let this be a warning. The dangers of walking to work on a London pavement should not include the possibility of an aircraft landing on your head. God forbid, a worse accident may one day happen.

This, to me, is the deal breaker. On the balance of all the arguments, the correct decision would be to back the Boris vision and commit to this as soon as possible.

I may be right in this view. I may be wrong.

Either way, a quick decision is vital.

But this can’t happen, can it?

Here is the political perspective:

Although Boris Airport is forecast to create 250,000 jobs, there is a need to consider the position of the 200,000 people in the Heathrow area who depend on the airport for their livelihood.

This is an understandable concern and, whichever way it goes, every effort must be made to lessen the impact of this decision on these good people. Having said this, as the new airport would take several years to construct, there is time to develop the support plan they deserve.

In fact, as it has been announced that a new city is required in the South of England, perhaps Heathrow City would be its own, bold option. How about that for an upstream creative idea?

Sorry, I digress.

You do realise, don’t you, that it is not the interests of local people that concern our political masters. As ever, their own interests come first.

We know this because it has already happened. The politicians have shown, yet again, that they do not care about anyone other than themselves.

To forecast the way this airport decision will go, you need to analyse the political pressures involved. What constituencies in the Heathrow area do these 200,000 people live in? Are they ‘marginal’ or are they ‘safe’? How could the threat of unemployment of these 200,000 people affect the vote? Which political party would lose seats? Which would gain?

Apparently, the answer is that ‘David Cameron is likely to lose seats in constituencies affected by airport expansion’.

So, surprise, surprise, what has our great leader decided to do?

Or, rather, not do?

The answer is that, as the Airport Commission will not present their findings two months after the next general election, David Cameron will not, after a full five years of government, be making a decision on this very important matter at all. Even his own MPs have accused him of ‘dithering’.

I am afraid this is just one example of how the imminence of the next general election will override the good governance of Britain until after May 2015.

A sad state of affairs, isn’t it?

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