Heathrow runway row blows up again

Airplane taking off at Heathrow
Airplane taking off at Heathrow Photo: ITV Meridian

The North Kent marshes are home to all kinds of wildlife; they're classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area - but more than one plan's been put forward for a gigantic new airport there to take the strain off Gatwick and Heathrow. The alternative is to expand those existing airports.

"We are now falling seriously behind other European countries in terms of airport capacity. That gives them economically a competitive advantage. Secondly we've dealt with the greenhouse gas emissions point. And thirdly I think that at a time of some economic crisis we need to do things which show that we're going to make Britain the most business-friendly country in Europe."

That call from Tim Yeo MP, a former environment minister who used to oppose expansion at Heathrow but has now changed his mind. At present, eighty-six airlines serve ninety countries from Heathrow's dual runways. Mr Yeo's backing for a third would likely put an end to pressure for a Kent airport, either on Grain, or off the coast near Sheppey, the so-called "Boris Island".

"We do need more aviation capacity." says London Mayor Boris Johnson. "What we need is a proper, bold solution and I don't think Heathrow can possibly be the answer, I think the Government knows it can't be the answer but now is the time for greatness folks, now's the moment for the Goverment to grasp the nettle and make a big statement."

Despite Boris' fervour, Kent MPs such as Gillingham and Rainham's Rehman Chishti are scathing:

"On environmental grounds it's completely unviable. Secondly in terms of capacity in the area to cater for so many people coming in working there is not there at all. And thirdly in terms of the economic factor, over fifty billion, completely unacceptable in these economic circumstances."

And Kent County Council has no love for an estuary airport; leader Paul Carter prefers to look East:-

"We've got High-Speed One trains that will be running into Ramsgate and potentially a new station at Manston, Manston on the market at the moment." he says. "We need some ambitious new owners to see the potential of Manston unlocked which will be massively important for regenerating the East Kent economy."

That's no answer either, retorts Caroline Lucas MP, for the Greens.

"If the argument is primarily one about climate change, frankly it doesn't matter where you put the emissions whether it's in one airport or another the cumulative effect is obviously the same. My solution would be to make sure that we look at alternatives to aviation."

Writing in The Telegraph, Tim Yeo says David Cameron must decide if he is "man or mouse" and that a third runway would give Cameron's Government a "sense of mission". For the moment, the Government remains firm as Transport Secretary Justine Greening explains:

"The PM's been very, very clear that it's a pledge he made on the third runway that he intends to keep. There's a cross-party consensus so actually there is now more consensus since we took a position and have our manifesto against the third runway. Labour have now even supported not having a third runway."

In a double-dip recession, exports, especially to booming markets in the far east, are seen as vital to the UK's growth.

But while the arguments here rage on it's feared our European rivals could be gaining the advantage.

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