Wednesday 6 May 2009

Just passing through

Interesting article in today's Western Mail by Martin Evans, of the Wales Transport Research Centre at the University of Glamorgan. He's picked up on a letter from a number of business leaders to The Times this week, in which it became clear that the battle lines over the third runway at Heathrow are nowhere near as clear cut as they had seemed.

There are some pretty influential business leaders here arguing that building a third runway is the wrong thing to do – and that's a long way away from the impression given previously that business was very much in favour.

There was a similar story in the Business Section of the Sunday Times. For me, perhaps the most interesting sentence was the one that talked about the need for extra capacity being "driven by transit-passenger growth, rather than improving Heathrow as a hub for the UK". In short, rather than serving the needs of the UK for good links, much of the extra capacity would be swallowed up by people who are simply using Heathrow as a convenient place to switch from one aeroplane to another.

In terms of jobs at the airport itself, of course, that may not make a vast amount of difference. Extra flights means extra jobs, although the type of job might vary. More catering, less car hire, for instance.

But there are three major issues.

The first is that investment diverted into a transit-passenger hub is investment which is not available for other purposes. And, as I've commented before, investment in high-speed rail links would be much more useful to us here in Wales. And a great deal less damaging in environmental terms.

The second is the environmental costs and impact on the local area. Even supposing one accepts a need for a transit hub (and there is room for some scepticism at least), then is Heathrow really the right place to put it?

And the third is about the business case. Certainly, the businesses directly involved will gain major benefits – but from the perspective of UK plc, wouldn't we really be better off trying to plan capacity around the needs of those who are actually coming to or going from these islands, rather than those who are just 'passing through'?


Anonymous said...

Agreed. And it's good to see Jill Evans MEP making out the wider case on her blog today: "trains and boats and planes" in support of the party's Carmarthenshire councillors.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if you included her in your list of Plaid Bloggers so that more people were aware of all the work she does?

John Dixon said...

Of course. In fact, I was certain that I had done so, ages ago - but clearly not.

James Dowden said...

I think we're witnessing a realization that High Speed Rail will change the aviation game. Suddenly, it will make a lot of sense for airlines to have a single hub at Birmingham (this iteration of my HSR map shows quite how natural this is*), rather than play the Heathrow plus a miscellaneous north-of-England airport game. The big loser will be BAA, as Birmingham is one of the few big airports they don't own.

* Yes, there's an awful lot more going on there...