It’s the classic politician photo op. A trade minister stands in a white coat, riveted by a rack of salmons hung up to cure. “Cured smoked salmon is a premier British export,” the minister, Conor Burns, posted on Twitter. The trade department “is here to support exactly this sort of UK company”, he added.
Apparently, not everyone got the memo. Every year, tonnes of Scottish salmon are shipped down to London and then go on their way to destinations all across the globe, getting from sea to supermarket shelf in places like Taipei within 18 hours. The remarkable hub that enables this to happen is Heathrow airport, where Scottish salmon is the heaviest trade good passing through. Overall, Heathrow is the country’s most valuable non-EU port. It handles more than £100 billion of goods per year.
For 25 years, the airport has been trying to expand. A third runway would see a 50 per cent increase in its capacity, delivering a commensurate 50 per cent expansion in its trade volumes at minimal cost to the taxpayer. In a cash-strapped country desperate to expand access to foreign markets, it is hard to imagine a more slam-dunk case for an infrastructure project.
This week, the courts sent the question of Heathrow expansion back to Whitehall. Despite claims of judicial overreach by some Heathrow enthusiasts like George Osborne, the Court of Appeal emphasised that it was not taking a position on whether the expansion should happen. It was simply duty-bound to apply the law, which states that infrastructure plans need to take account of the Government’s own carbon emissions targets.
“Taking account” of the targets is not actually difficult – it’s simply a matter of putting the verbiage in the document. Yet for reasons that are obscure, the airport policy statement composed under Chris Grayling as transport secretary in 2018 failed to do that. The good news, for Heathrow, is that the judges could find no other reason to hold up the project whatsoever – neither air quality, nor newts, nor the number of marginal constituencies in its flight path.
The upshot is that the Government now has, within its grasp, the ability to unleash the largest private investment project in Europe. Dozens of small, British businesses are waiting to sign contracts for the work. Hundreds of people are waiting to be hired. Thousands more up and down the country, from Scotland’s salmon farmers to Tees Valley bioscience companies in the Tories’ new northern seats, are relying on infrastructure improvements to let our trade grow.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appYou cannot “level up” trade to and from these places if you are insistently holding on to the bottleneck through which it travels. In fact, it is the opposite of “levelling up” to put the objections of local residents in the South before the economic interests of people up and down the whole country.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appTo achieve all of this new growth and innovation, the Government doesn’t have to hold another contentious vote in Parliament. It doesn’t need to preside over another bitter row about fiscal rules between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. It doesn’t (yet) need to write a new planning application. It just has to pick up a pen and stick some new wording into the policy document. Yet, based on his lukewarm rhetoric so far, I have the sinking feeling that Boris Johnson is going to leave the pen lying stubbornly on his desk and let the project die.
In doing so, he will no doubt seek cover by pointing the finger at the courts. “It was the judges – in their wisdom – who killed it!” he may say. But this is sophistry.
In fact, the ruling is surprising for the flimsiness of the barrier it erects before Heathrow’s revving bulldozers. Against expectations, it did not suggest that a third runway could never meet air quality targets or demands for habitat protection. It simply found that the Government hadn’t written the policy in a way that met its own bureaucratic climate target requirements.
In other words, if Heathrow’s third runway hopes2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app are allowed to die, this one is very much on Boris. Just think of the planes stacked up into the stratosphere, a constantly refreshing queue of six or seven circling for 15 miles around, churning out exhaust, a new one arriving every two minutes. Think of the impatient passengers they are waiting to disgorge, the crates of foreign goods jammed in beneath the hold luggage waiting to be unloaded and the brimming crates of British products on the ground waiting to be put on board and jetted across the world. Think of the wasted time and fuel and productive capacity.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHeathrow opponents claim that the country is full of alternative propositions that would love to expand instead. To which the answer is, surely: let them. Let every airport build a new runway if it wants to and let a thousand control towers bloom. If there is that much private investment stacked into the sky, just waiting to lay on new trade routes, unleash it all.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe truth is that, in terms of cargo, Heathrow dwarfs them all. Gatwick touts itself as a less disruptive alternative, but it is a holiday airport. Another runway there might enable passengers to book more convenient flights to Tenerife – if they feel like sitting in quarantine, living off room service – but Easyjet planes, which occupy half of Gatwick’s slots, don’t even carry cargo.
As for the idea of a three-runway, “Boris Island” airport in the Thames Estuary – smack in the middle of a major bird migration corridor – I would love to see the tome of the environmental challenges and fiscal objections and decades of planning applications and appeals and refusals ready to hit that project, not to mention all the new ground infrastructure needed to make it work.
Politicians can rarely create economic growth. Favourable demographics, technology and natural resources cannot be legislated into existence. But one thing we know they can do is strangle economies into stagnation or ruin. That is exactly what is happening at Heathrow Airport.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appDuring the election campaign, Mr Johnson hauled himself into the cockpit of a bulldozer and rammed it through a wall labelled “deadlock”. That bulldozing bulldog is the Boris the country voted for – not the supine panderer fretting over a promise to lie down in front of one. If he really wants to end Britain’s economic productivity deadlock, Heathrow is his chance.