Leading article: Britain's economy does not need an expanded Heathrow

The example of our European neighbours shows there is another way

Related Topics

No one was more pleased by the Government's confirmation yesterday that it will give the go-ahead for a third Heathrow runway than the business lobby. According to the CBI's director general, Richard Lambert, expanding Heathrow's capacity "makes real sense". Jo Valentine, the head of London First, said the decision would help London "fight for global business in a post-recession world".

In fact, the argument that the British economy will benefit from a third runway for Heathrow has always been – and remains – unconvincing. Bolstering the airport's status as a plane-changing "hub" would certainlybenefit Heathrow's owners, but it is hard to see how it would provide a significant boost to the national economy.

It is claimed that a larger Heathrow is necessary for Britain's international competitiveness. But much of the projected increase in passenger numbers through the airport would result from a rise in tourist, not business, travel. Furthermore, many of the extra flights are projected to be domestic. There is a larger context here too that cannot be neglected. As Nicholas Stern made clear in his pioneering climate change report in 2006, the global economy will suffer unless concerted action is taken by international governments to curb emissions. For all the environmental conditions outlined by the Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday, expanding Heathrow would be a big step in the opposite direction.

And yet there is one argument put forward by the business lobby that has a ghost of truth in it: Britain's existing transport infrastructure is in urgent need of modernisation. Our domestic transport infrastructure is a disgrace compared with that of many of our European peers. Travelling by rail and road in France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland is a vastly more pleasant and efficient experience than it is here in Britain. Across Europe, the trains tend to be less crowded, more reliable and quicker. Road tolls in several countries help to keep congestion down. And the whole system is impressively integrated too.

Those efficiencies have kept demand for air travel down. As one small example, there is very little air traffic between Paris and Brussels because the train is so reliable and efficient.

We should, of course, be realistic. Britain will always need air links. But there is no reason why Britain cannot rely on the present airport capacity and attempt to soak up greater travel demand by developing other transport solutions. New high-speed rail lines, for instance, would plug British cities into the continental network, reducing the need for new air routes.

The Government seems to accept that there is at least a connection. Mr Hoon yesterday floated the idea of building a new high-speed rail link between Heathrow and St Pancras station in London. But this indicates distorted priorities. The development of high-speed rail should not be thrown in as a concession to opponents of a Heathrow's expansion, but pursued as a desirable objective in its own right. Indeed, any government with the courage of its environmental convictions would be preparing such projects anyway, because rail is the least carbon-intensive form of public transport.

Transport is the lifeblood of trade and business. But the Government, by assuming that air travel is the only route to growth, has hindered, not served, the national interest.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: IT teacher required immediately...

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Assistant - Windows XP/7/8, Networks Firewalls/VPN's

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Assistant - Windows XP/7/8, Netwo...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album