We predicted last Friday that Geoff Hoon was about to give the go-ahead for the third runway at Heathrow despite fears about its environmental impact.
I’m told that the transport secretary will tell the House of Commons tomorrow (Thursday) that the government does back the project. The announcement will be dressed up with other transport schemes – supposedly of a green nature – including a rail link from Heathrow to St Pancras and more “hard shoulder running*” schemes to alleviate congestion on some motorways.
The environmentalists don’t buy the theory that the rail link will help compensate for the expansion. They will argue that new train links make sense as an alternative to a larger airport.
Just as an add-on, however, they will allow more people to reach Heathrow by rail…decreasing the number of domestic flights needed…allowing more long-haul capacity at Heathrow. Which would obviously be worse for the environment. That’s their argument.
It would be fair to add at this point that the business lobby have argued strongly for the new runway because Heathrow’s capacity is at bursting point. Even if the pressure is eased during a recession, there is still a medium-term problem.
Then again, a large amount of Heathrow capacity is for transit passengers who don’t necessarily add much to the British economy. The airport’s size hasn’t guaranteed a full set of services to the UK regions. Amsterdam – bizarrely – services more British cities than Heathrow. Expect a big row tomorrow.
* This has been piloted on 11 miles of the M42. Basically it means drivers paying to drive on the hard shoulder, which should ease congestion.