The year is 2003. The Iraq War begins, the SARS virus spreads through Asia, Concorde flies for the final time and Busted top the UK charts not once, but twice.
And somewhere in Whitehall, Labour’s Alistair Darling signs a document that claims to set out the “framework for the future development of air transport over the next 30 years”.
It’s now 2018. We’re halfway through that 30-year period and one of its main proposals, the building of a third runway at Heathrow, remains unrealised.
In the time us Brits have taken to decide where we should spend £14bn to lay some tarmac, many other people have just been getting on with things, such as...
1) An epic bridge/island/tunnel combo
A solid example of what can be achieved in 15 years is China’s Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge – which consists of three bridges, one tunnel and three artificial islands.
The project gained government backing around the same time as Heathrow’s third runway and will open to traffic next month. However, at least 10 workers are thought to have died during the construction of the project.
Cost: ¥110bn (£11.89bn)
China also built.... a lot of other things.
2) A third runway...
Putting us Brits thoroughly to shame, Beijing Capital International Airport planned for and built a third runway between 2002 and 2007 – and that’s still factoring in a temporary suspension of the scheme.
3) Millie Bobby Brown was born, grew up and became world-famous.
Proving that not being a fully grown-adult is no hindrance to getting shit done, the now-14-year-old star of Stranger Things learned how to walk, talk and act well enough to bag a Screen Actors Guild Awards in less time than Heathrow’s third runway took to get permission to leave a drawing board.
4) Another very long bridge
Opened in 2011, the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge took four years to build and is the longest bridge over a body of water at 25.84 miles.
Cost: ¥10bn (£900m)
Notable fact: The bridge has been built to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, typhoons or the impact of a 300,000 ton ship (though not all at the same time).
5) The very wide Panama Canal got even wider
In a bid to head off competition from alternative sea cargo routes, the Third Set of Locks Project was proposed in 2006 and completed in 2016.
Cost: $5.25bn (£3.92bn)
Notable stat: The project required the same amount of reinforced steel as 20.2 Eiffel Towers.
6) A car. On Mars.
And if the humiliation of being soundly whooped by other countries isn’t enough then one man, Elon Musk, has been single-handedly giving the UK Government a sound lesson in how to have a vision and then realise it, culminating (so far) in sending a car to Mars.
Sure, it’s completely impractical, only carried one person and was a one-time only deal, but just look at it...
Cost: £70,000 for the car, slightly more for the rocket and spaceman.
Notable fact: It’s the coolest thing anyone has ever done. Probably.
7) The Iraq War and its aftermath
The UK Government hasn’t been as slow in all things as they have been on airport infrastructure.
Since Heathrow’s third runway was proposed, not only did George Bush and Tony Blair invade Iraq, “win” a war and then realise they hadn’t quite won properly and would have to fight an insurgency that would devastate the country, but Sir John Chilcot also had time to write a million-word report of the whole saga.
Cost: At least $1.1 trillion (£820 billion)
Notable fact: It didn’t quite go to plan.