WHENEVER big business wants to cover substantial areas of Britain with concrete, it makes extravagant claims of jobs and wealth to be created.
The Davies Report into a third runway at Heathrow is no exception.
City insider Howard Davies speculates that a new runway would generate up to £147 billion in economic output over 60 years and create more than 70,000 jobs by 2050.
No wonder some trade unionists — and Labour Party leaders — have jumped on the Davies bandwagon, demanding a government go-ahead to send in the bulldozers by 2020 at the latest.
Labour acting leader Harriet Harman had fun in Parliament, teasing David Cameron about being bullied by Boris Johnson, but the London mayor’s case against the project is unassailable.
Yes, he’s often a buffoon. Yes, he has a dog in this fight in the shape of his pet project of a new airport slap bang in the middle of the Thames estuary.
But his scorn for Davies’s effort to spike third runway opponents’ guns by offering flimsy “safeguards” on night flights, noise and pollution is well placed.
Similarly, Johnson is correct to note that acceptance of the “need” for a third runway will be followed rapidly by a clamour for a fourth on the grounds of jobs, prosperity and the dire likelihood that Britain could be outflanked by competitors in mainland Europe.
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye was given ample opportunity by the media yesterday to confirm that Davies’s safeguards were both manageable and acceptable.
He evaded the issue, claiming not to have had time to read the report in full and insisting that any problems standing in the way of his company’s profits — or Britain’s long-term economic growth, as he put it — could be settled in direct talks with the government.
Despite his failure to give a commitment on any of Davies’s conditions, including pollution, Holland-Kaye asserted that Heathrow would be “the world’s best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport.”
Frankly, such resounding declarations accompany every proposal to drown communities under concrete and increase pollutant levels by expanding road transport access to ever-expanding airports.
No credence should be given to the pledges and promises of corporate suits with pound signs for eyes.
They will promise the sweetest air quality, lowest noise and even golden elephants to get the go-ahead, knowing that once the juggernaut starts moving it won’t be halted.
Heathrow v Gatwick is a false dichotomy in that it assumes that hub expansion around London, which already has six airports, is essential.
The most relevant comment made by Holland-Kaye was that the “debate has never been about a runway. It’s been about the future we want for Britain.”
If people believe that the future we want is for much of southern England to be concreted over to provide an international hub for other countries, irrespective of the damage to the environment, climate and people’s homes and lives, the third runway is the way to go.
But as growing sections of the population realise that aviation is feather-bedded for political reasons — excused fuel duty and compliance with environmental laws — they may well prefer an alternative approach.