The Government produced its National Policy Statement this week, paving the way for a third runway at Heathrow airport.
This wasn’t unexpected. Indeed the decision was made a year and a half ago, and at the time I resigned as an MP and triggered a by-election. I didn’t do so because I felt it was strategically the best thing to do, and I knew that with the backdrop of the EU referendum I would be unlikely to hold my seat. I did so because I made a solemn promise that I would, and promises should matter in politics.
In the last election I promised I would not be resigning over the issue, and that instead I would stay and fight in every possible way to restore common sense to this debate that has festered for decades. And that is what I will do.
I remain convinced that despite the Government’s NPS, Heathrow expansion will not go ahead. The case against Heathrow expansion continues to deepen.
A third runway would be an environmental disaster and a blight on our local community, without delivering anything like the promised economic benefits. What is extraordinary is that the newly revised Government figures put Gatwick marginally ahead of Heathrow in terms of economic benefits, and more or less equal in terms of connectivity,
So it is even harder to understand why the Government is still wedded to the option that is most disruptive, most expensive, most polluting and which – because it is surrounded by uniquely complex financial, planning, legal and political risks – least likely to be delivered.
In the Commons, the Transport Secretary stated that Heathrow was ‘prepared’ for the project. But that is not true. We still do not know how the third runway can be reconciled with air pollution limits or binding Climate Change targets. We still don’t know which communities will find themselves under new flight paths. We still don’t know how many billions of pounds will be need to make Heathrow accessible, or even how Heathrow itself will be able to finance this project.
What we do know is that since the Airports Commission, the economic and Connectivity benefits promised by Heathrow have had to be dramatically revised downwards, to the extent that they are now smaller than the rival Gatwick offer. And we know that many of the financial risk of the project will be born by taxpayers.
The next stage is a vote in the Commons. I am doing all I can to persuade colleagues from all parties to vote against Heathrow expansion. If we fail, there will be an immediate legal challenge which was started and led by the former Conservative Council in Richmond, and which many other Councils – in addition to City Hall. – support.
First published in the Richmond and Twickenham Times