THE BLOG

Expanding Heathrow Makes Sense, Further Delay Does Not

24/11/2015 17:37 GMT | Updated 24/11/2016 10:12 GMT

"Wise and masterly inactivity" may allow many political problems to pass away but it will not solve the lack of airport capacity for London. This is needed to allow international business to flourish with the United Kingdom's companies being able to visit foreign counterparts and send goods to the wider world. It is needed for leisure to allow individuals to go to far-flung countries purely for the amusement and relaxation of doing so. It is not the job of politicians to stop people doing useful and enjoyable things because they cannot make a decision or for the fear of those lobbyists who oppose the reasonable desires of the many.

If this is accepted then London needs an airport that has spare capacity for flights, is connected by a fast train to the centre and is served by good roads. Currently it has four airports, none of which meets all these requirements. The City Airport is convenient but small and cannot be expanded. Heathrow lacks capacity but otherwise has excellent transport links while Gatwick has little extra capacity, a moderate rail service and a poor road connection, leaving Stansted as an also-ran because it is not really a London airport.

The solution is simple, there is space around Heathrow to build another runway which would remove the capacity constraint boosting the most popular London airport that travellers generally want to use. Unlike other infrastructure projects the cost can be borne by the Private Sector at least as far as the airport construction is concerned. The only public money that may be spent would be on upgrading road and rail links but not on essential work to make the project possible.

Heathrow has many advantages. The most obvious is that it is already there and those who argue that it would have been better if Heathrow had been developed in the first place miss the point. It handles over seventy three million passengers a year. Which means that most of the necessary facilities are already in place so the inconvenience of adding to them is incremental rather than entirely new. This applies to the dislocation of building work but also to noise. Few people who live near the airport, with the exception of the Sovereign herself, began to reside there before the airport was built. When they moved in they broadly knew what to expect. This would not be true if a new airport were to be built somewhere else. Heathrow is also convenient, although the A4 and M4 can be busy it is not a difficult journey by car and the Heathrow Express is reliable and quick. It is much closer to London than its competitors which is so important for business travellers who may fly in and out on the same day.

Heathrow benefits from its scale. It already has so many flights that connections are easy. This is worth improving, no one wants to change airports to change planes. Doing so increases the immigration risk as transit passengers kept in the secure part of an airport never formally enter the country, while if they have to go to an alternative airport they inevitably do. More importantly, it makes people's lives easier. The idea that travellers would want or could be expected to go from Heathrow to Gatwick for a connecting flight is one that puts the interests of bureaucratic planning ahead of individual needs. Government ought always to put the convenience of the voters ahead of the bossiness of the planners.

Easily available air travel at a reasonable cost has been one of the greatest boons of recent decades. It has proved tremendously economically beneficial, trade in goods and services has grown as suppliers and clients have been more easily able to meet. It has also given pleasure to millions who have made trips that in their childhood may have seemed impossible. This broadens people's horizons but even if it merely offered a marginal improvement in people's standard of living that is a good thing to have done. Indeed, it is one of the main purposes of Politics.

In opposition to the expansion of Heathrow are the usual suspects. The Adullamites, those unbearable holy Greens who want us to return to living in caves for fear of the slightest emission. They hate the internal combustion engine, preferring the hair shirt. Then there are those who honourably represent their constituents, feeling that the national interest is insufficient to overcome the disadvantage to their own locality. This is not nimbyism but is representative democracy in action. However, the Government needs to consider the benefit of the country as a whole, economically and socially expanding Heathrow makes sense, further delay does not.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset