Labour finally see sense on Heathrow 3rd runway

The aviation industry thought it couldn't get any worse. In the middle of October Justine Greening, the inverterate opponent of Heathrow expansion, was made Secretary of State for Transport. Two weeks later the Labour party has announced it is dropping its previous support for a third runway at Heathrow.

The industry has spent the autumn frenetically lobbying for further airport expansion in the South East. It comes to something when weeks of frantic activiy has resulted in Justine Greening as Transport Secretary and the Labour party abandoning the third runway. Is it losing its touch?

To rub salt into its wounds, Maria Eagle, Labour's transport spokeswoman, chose to make the announcement while addressing the conference of the Airport Operators' Association at the prestigious Metrople Hilton Hotel on Edgware Road. She told the conference:

"The answer for the south-east is not going to be to fall back on the third runway at Heathrow... it is off the agenda.The political reality is that the (Heathrow) runway decision has been made and it is done".

The campaigners' chant has come true. There really will be No Third Runway!

No 3rd runway campaigner becomes transport secretary

It was the aviation industry's worst nightmare. Justine Greening made Secretary of State for Transport. Its now a reality - David Cameron appointed her on the 14th October.

Justine Greening has got form. Form that frightens the industry…..and the civil servants in her new department. She was a staunch opponent of the third runway at Heathrow. Rallies, meetings, marches, demonstrations, she was there.

More than that, she was a hugely pro-active opponent of Heathrow expansion. It was her tenacity which revealed the collusion that was going on between the civil servants in the Department for Transport and BAA, the owners of Heathrow.

The Sunday Times broke the story on 29th November 2009:

The Government colluded with the airports operator BAA to skew evidence in favour of expanding Heathrow and play down facts that could help opponents, secret documents indicate. The government was so concerned about the content of internal emails and memos about Heathrow expansion that it spent 18 months trying to prevent them being revealed. They were obtained only after Justine Greening, Tory MP for Putney, complained to the freedom of information watchdog”.

It was this information which led to one of Plane Stupid’s most famous actions.

It’s not surprising that within hours of Justine Greening’s appointment as Transport Secretary the aviation industry’s PR machine swung into action. British Airways’ boss Willie Walsh was quoted in the Daily Telegraph saying that she was “compromised” over Heathrow expansion. Her appointment prompted a major article in the Times by its economic editor David Wighton, ‘Can growth take off without a third runway.’ In the article Wighton writes:

“Ms Greening impressed many in the transport world as a junior Treasury minister….from the aviation industry’s point of view there is just one small snag.  Ms Greening is the MP for Putney, which sits under the flight path to Heathrow, and has been one of the most prominent opponents of expansion at the airport.”

The industry is making a lot of Justine Greening’s perceived conflict of interest of representing a constituency under the flight path.  But it is a cover for the fact that it has a Transport Secretary who doesn’t share their view on a key aspect of aviation policy.  As Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for the neighbouring West London constituency of Richmond, put it on twitter:   ‘BA boss says Transport Sec is 'compromised' re: Heathrow. That's what not agreeing with BA is called?’  Philip Hammond, Greening’s predecessor, also represented a constituency heavily overflown by Heathrow aircraft.  No mention from the aviation industry he might have a conflict of interest.

The irony is that Justine Greening is not against airport expansion. But she will want to base her decisions on proven facts. Perhaps thats what worries the aviation industry. It can no longer operate in a fact-free zone.


Willie Walsh rules out 3rd runway at Heathrow

BA chief executive Willie Walsh has finally admitted a 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport "will never be built". He told a Times CEO summit yesterday that "it's dead" and that British Airways were looking for expansion at Madrid airport after their recent link-up with Iberian Airways.

John Stewart, Chair of the residents organisation HACAN, which campaigns against aircraft noise said:

"It now looks as if finally the third runway has been killed off. It's most enthusiastic backers, British Airways, are now planning for life without a new runway".

Stewart added:

"BAA should now sell off the houses they have bought in Sipson to allow life in the villages to get back to normal".

Whilst this announcement clearly represents a victory for the Heathrow villages and the UK's climate change act - at the same time we need to be really cautious that expansion doesn't just happen elsewhere instead. There are many regional airports across the UK that still have expansion plans and with the Times leader today pushing for a new airport on the Thames Estuary it is clear where the battle has now moved too. Expansion in Europe instead would also be problematic.

We cannot have airport expansion and meet our climate change targets. Fact.