All 3 entries tagged Heathrow

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January 17, 2009

What is Emma Thompson talking about?

Actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson seems to be such a fully signed-up resident of la-la land, she’s got me agreeing with Geoff Hoon.

Blimey.

I think I’ve made clear I’m no fan of Heathrow expansion (or Heathrow generally, really – I think it should probably be on the other side of London).

But how can Emma Thompson be one of the leading voices in the anti-expansion campaign while simultaneously hopping across the Atlantic whenever she fancies?

Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, a man with whom I rarely seem to agree, has pointed out this contradiction between fighting climate change and causing a fair bit of it at the same time.

Thompson fought back: “Get a grip Geoff. This is not a campaign against flying – we’re trying to stop the expansion of Heathrow in the face of climate change. It sounds like the transport secretary has completely missed the point. Again.”

If anyone’s missed the point here, it’s not Geoff.


January 15, 2009

Is Labour too scared of business to say 'No'?

Finding a good reason to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport isn’t hard. The trouble is, there’s only one.

It’ll apparently be good for business.

Some airlines argue that it’s good for passenger equality too because more ‘slots’ means more cheap flights for the lower-middle class. The only trouble is that it’s not true. George Monbiot estimates more than half of Ryanair’s adverts are placed in the Daily Telegraph.

Put simply, a bigger Heathrow means more flights for people with second homes in the Med.

The strangest thing about the whole Heathrow argument is who is opposing it.

Heathrow AirportThe Mayor of London, the Conservative Party (their leadership, at least) and the Liberal Democrats. All in unison.

For Labour to be left on the other side with the CBI suggests the government’s reasons are skewed somehow.

I think they’re scared.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling know that in the current economic climate, the economy is their soft spot. Any decision they make that could be seen as damaging to business is, right now, potentially fatal.

What’s strange is that the government hasn’t – until now, at least – taken high-speed rail more seriously. Spain is throwing 220mph lines across their country like confetti. France has had the TGV for years. We’ve got… er… the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Eventually.

If you’re flying from London to Scotland, the plane is a) cheaper b) quicker and c) more convenient.

Perhaps allowing a third runway is just politically easier. If flights are delayed, airlines get the blame. If a high-speed rail link is delayed, the government is blamed by association.

But by the time a new rail line is built, or a new runway is constructed, Gordon Brown will be gone and forgotten.

This is a long-term decision being taken for a short-term reason: Fear.


December 17, 2008

Britain's broken back

As President-elect Obama promises to invest in the United States’ infrastructure during the recession, here there’s little sign of progress.

A depressing Friday-night journey from Nottingham to Southampton last week gave me plenty of time to ponder the uselessness of Britain’s transport network. In fact I only had to go about ten miles down the M1 before it became a car park.

We’re a long, relatively thin country with a large proportion of the population spread along a spine running from London to Liverpool/Manchester.

But the spine’s broken.

As of last weekend we’ve now got one medium-speed rail line running from North to South. It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near enough. It’s also ludicrously expensive, hence why I was sat on the M1.

We’ve got two North-to-South motorways, the M1 and the M6. They are renowned, probably across most of Europe, for being over-stretched.

And then we’ve got internal flights, the use of which ought to be a national embarrassment.

No-one really knows how to solve the problem, and there certainly isn’t a consensus. We’re building Crossrail at the same time as considering putting the brakes on Heathrow’s expansion. We’re widening motorways at the same time as encouraging people to use public transport. It must be the least well-planned area of public policy in Britain. Nothing adds up.

One decision ought to be a no-brainer. We need new railways, stretching from the North to the South. They don’t necessarily need to be TGV-fast – in some ways making them as cheap as possible might be the most important priority.

And it actually makes more sense for them to be freight lines than passenger ones. Anyone who’s tried overtaking a lorry which is itself overtaking another lorry will tell you what causes most of the congestion on the roads.

But we’ve not built the country for rail freight. I spent much of the summer listening to people fight for or against a Tesco Megashed in Hampshire. It was to be bigger than T5 at Heathrow, and would have served most of their supermarkets in the South-East of England. It was right next to a railway line, but they had no intention of ever using it.

Personally I’m not a fan of expanding Heathrow, as it seems obvious to everyone that it was built in the wrong place. The more we expand it, the more we compound the problem. The Thames Estuary idea apparently favoured by Boris Johnson seems a good idea to me, and is worthy of investigation by the government.

Unfortunately it’s all a bit too late. A recession is the ideal time to do some of these things (it’s cheaper and employs people). But it’ll take decades for anything to be done.

We’re in real danger of becoming a country of motorway-bound I-Spy players.


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