Thursday 27 February 2020 8:57 pm

Aviation expansion is a no-brainer

It’s 1968, and the Harold Wilson government’s official Roskill Commission begins to look into the possibility of a third airport for London. Heathrow is increasingly full and anybody with any foresight can see that aviation traffic is only going to become more important in the modern economy.

His recommendation is an airport in Buckinghamshire, but Buckinghamshire residents don’t like that. So another later plan is hatched – Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary – but that falls away after the oil shock in the early 1970s.

Various other options have since been imagined, designed, given the go ahead in parliament and yet, still, here we are in 2020: a global city with what is best described as “make do and mend” aviation infrastructure.

The London mayor was lauding the court decision to stop Heathrow’s expansion yesterday: London is Open, evidently, but only if you can walk there. It appears from the judgement handed down yesterday that the problem may have been more of a cockup than a conspiracy, with the Department for Transport’s lawyers giving advice that meant the underpinning policy framework allowing for airport expansion ended up being unlawful. The government, having decided not to appeal, yesterday said it remained in favour of airport expansion, albeit seemingly at an indeterminate time in the future and at a location yet to be decided upon.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Boris Johnson will have been rather happy with yesterday’s decision, potentially giving him an easy out from this contentious topic.

But should it be contentious? Not really.

The government has given a green light to a domestic train set with a questionable business case costing north of £100bn, but seems incapable of throwing its full weight behind a project that would for all intents and purposes be private-funded, hugely boosting the country’s economic potential and sending a signal that the capital and the country is open for business.

Heathrow is confident it will triumph on appeal; British businesses will hope it is successful. Considering how often we have heard about fishing in the Brexit debate, we can assume our politicians have noticed that we are an island. Airports are rather important. If we want to build a growing, global, go-getting economy once we leave the European Union, it may be an idea to let people who want to come here actually do so.

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