The most striking aspect of David Cameron’s appeal when he became Tory Leader three years ago was his commitment to green issues. Derided though he was for his hug-a-huskie photo op and the wind turbine on his roof, he appeared determined to make environmental considerations central to Tory policy making for the first time.
Today we see the first tangible results of that thinking with the Conservative pledge to overturn the Government’s go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow.
This is a bold and welcome step. The decision to build a third runway, taken by Gordon Brown personally, was always a lazy option, continuing the less than great British tradition of piecemeal and pricey additions to bits of the transport infrastructure that are already failing.
Business welcomed the decision – yet it is the City that has been most vociferous in its criticism of the dismal state of our biggest airport. Business leaders rightly condemn Heathrow as an international laughing stock, hopelessly over-stretched and routinely giving passengers a wretched experience. So where exactly is the logic in adding another runway and pouring in even more passengers?
Far more creative thinking was required about our future transport needs and the Conservatives have been doing that thinking. Instead of constructing a third runway, they say they will invest money in a new high-speed train network linking our main commercial hubs ? London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Using 180 mph trains, passengers would be able to travel city centre to city centre faster than using air shuttles. The move, say the Tories, would replace 66,500 flights a year into Heathrow.
This is innovative thinking. This country ? like Japan ? is small enough to benefit from a high-speed rail network. And as the country that pioneered railways, there would be something profoundly satisfying about investing in such a scheme ? which would also be the most carbon-friendly way to transport people across the country.
Critics will argue that such a move would deal a death blow to Heathrow. Nonsense. What it would do is introduce some sorely-needed competition to the airport, and that can only be good for the travelling public.