It Is Time to Follow the Money on the Debate Over Heathrow

01/12/2015 18:02 | Updated 01 December 2015

The key arguments against a third Heathrow runway have not changed a jot since David Cameron famously pledged to the UK electorate: "No ifs, no buts, no third runway".
So why is there is so much speculation that literally within days an announcement could well be made in support of a third Heathrow runway?

I suggest there are two clear reasons.

Over many years Heathrow airport have undertaken a formidable and incredibly expensive lobbying operation. Visit any London train station and you will almost certainly see their billboards. Open a local newspaper in London and you can't fail to see to their repeated full page adverts. And if you want to travel through Westminster Tube station you have no choice but to be force fed their propaganda. They have even poured resources into creating mock local community groups.

When examining any issue there is an old saying that you should always follow the money.
I have nothing at all against companies being owned by overseas investors. However I do take objection to overseas owners of Heathrow continually lecturing the British public over what is best for British people and for the overall UK economy.

The facts are simple: Heathrow is owned by Heathrow Airports Holdings. They in turn are reported as owned by FGP Topco Limited, a consortium owned and led by the infrastructure specialist Ferrovial S.A. (25.00%), Qatar Holding LLC (20.00%), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (13.29%), the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (11.88%), Alinda Capital Partners (11.18%), China Investment Corporation (10.00%) and Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) (8.65%).

Heathrow Airports Holdings Ltd quite understandably want to create a dominant position in the UK, ideally at the expense of other airports. More landing rights means more profits for them. The closer to a monopoly on international flights they have, the happier they are.

Of course they have every right to put their case, but that is no reason why we should believe that what works for them is the same as what really works for British people and 'UK Plc'.

The second big change since David Cameron's explicit promise to the electorate is the Davies Commission on aviation. However, in many respects the whole review has been an expensive farce. With hindsight from day one.

Asking how best to develop a hub airport is actually the wrong question, when there is an ongoing debate as to whether growing a hub model is always the best approach.

Once again there are vested interests at stake. Of course there are people who believe a bigger hub model is vital. But speak to anyone without a vested interest and you suddenly hear a different story.

More point to point international flights can of course take place from Stansted, Birmingham and Manchester airports. And if we prioritised international business travel at Heathrow it could expand its flights to new long distance destinations as well.

We need a better run Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow. We need to start making much better use of the surprisingly large spare runway capacity at airports in the South East, especially Stansted. And we need to also recognise that there are plenty of business people living in the Midlands and the North of England who resent being forced to always first fly to Heathrow before they can first start an international flight. The views of passengers very rarely get a mention in the aviation debate.

It really is possible to ensure that the UK retains good international connections while at the same avoiding the loss of at least 750 homes to build a third runway. We can remain competitive with other European airports without having to ensure that even more people are disturbed by noise from Heathrow. In fact it is intolerable that even now 28% of all people disturbed by aircraft noise across European are under the Heathrow flights paths.

And most importantly we do not have to accept illegal levels of air pollution around Heathrow simply to satisfy the financial desires of the owners of Heathrow.

For once let's put the real interests of London and Londoners first.