R3 not on Cable’s agenda

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said that expansion of Heathrow is not an option for expanding London’s air capacity, as it becomes clear that a Thames estuary airport option would mean closure for Heathrow.

Speaking to the BBC, Cable said “There’s an absolute political commitment not to expand Heathrow…. It’s not going to happen.” He said that the commission, headed by Sir Howard Davies, set up by the government to look at the best options for increasing capacity, which has Heathrow expansion as one of its options to review, was only useful for “looking at the alternatives.”

Meanwhile, the new transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said the commission will identify and recommend to government “options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation”.

McLoughlin acknowledged that “the reality is that since the 1960s Britain has failed to keep pace with our international competitors in addressing long-term aviation capacity and connectivity needs.”

The consensus is now clear that London needs additional capacity to allow better connections with emerging economies, and to avoid being overtaken by other european airports where runway capacity or expansion is not an issue. There is widespread disappointment that the government will not be tackling the issue in this parliament, since the Davies review will not report until after the next general election. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described this ducking of the issue as a “fudgerama”.

Cable may well be influenced in his position by LibDem anti-aviation policy, and his own constituency of Twickenham being on the flightpath, and part of the 2M group of local authorities opposed to any expansion at Heathrow.

An article in the Sunday Times last weekend which suggests the Estuary Airport idea is gaining credence sets out the funding plan for the £50bn project. £10bn of that sum would be provided by the “closure and redevelopment of Heathrow”. No mention is made of what would happen to the 150,000 people – nearly one-in-five of the west London workforce – who owe their living to the airport, but clearly there would be an employment challenge to add to west London’s economic development issues should that come to pass.

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