How do we deal with a problem like a runway?
How do you describe a series of national governments who couldn’t make a decision to build an essential piece of travel infrastructure which would transform the effectiveness of their country’s economy, both internal and external?
“Shockingly incompetent? Pathetic? Running scared of so many different interest groups and voters they become transfixed like small rabbits in a big headlight?
If this was the sad story of a third world country, some megalomaniacal dictator’s whim or the meanderings of a pseudo-Marxist collective’s attempts to drag itself into the 20th Century then we could all laugh in an indulgent and smug way that this sort of nonsense would never happen to the descendant of the British empire. We are far too sensible, business-like and we have a 21st Century government that is going to lead us to a brave new Brexit future!
One of the things we never seem to learn from history but perhaps should is that we never learn from history……..so what are the lessons from our past that we need to examine?
If you want to seem to be doing something but actually ensure that no result is achieved then set up a working party; follow this by asking for a detailed feasibility study; an in depth report and then a consultation period which will be followed, in much the same way that night usually follows day, by legal action, appeals and a change of government who will then commission a new report – perfect.
The map below outlines where the Roskill Commission, set up by Harold Wilson’s labour government in 1968, recommended (in 1970) that the new GB Airport Hub should be (Cublington/Wing).
The RAF station at Wing provided the start, there was room for 4 runways, it was north of London so would allow the northern and indeed midland powerhouses to partake more easily, and with the potential for all 4 runways there was plenty of expansion available.
In essence this was the perfect solution but then there is no accounting for taste nor localism. Better than Maplin Sands (which later morphed into Boris Island) as it would have been cheaper to build. Better than Gatwick as easier to access. Better than Heathrow as fewer residents to annoy with noise and emissions and more space.
So what went wrong?
What kicked off a process that has so far been going on for 46 years and, despite the recent announcement, is unlikely to be resolved and actually in operation for another 10 years at the very least?
This sorry tale of Nimby’s, inaction and reports commissioned and then re-commissioned is too sad to document in full but anyone who enjoyed ‘The Thick of It’, ‘2012’ and ‘W1A’ will get the idea.
We have had successive administrations of differing hues and oppositions agreeing with their opponents and then disagreeing with themselves when actually in power. If you wrote it no one would believe you.
So now we are back to Heathrow where the costs will be astronomical, opposition vehement and delays inevitable? What could government do? It could just take the radical yet common-sense decision to help regional airports improve capacity in the short term which would give itself more time to get to the best result and make it happen.
3 years ago there was a working airport in Kent (Manston) that is close to the HSR line and our Channel ports. It could take a large amount of cargo traffic from the London airports as well as some passengers but this has been allowed to be mothballed despite several businesses willing to take it on. There are others around the country, (Southampton and Bournemouth to name two) which are struggling who would also benefit from a spreading of the load in the short to medium term. This would allow the ‘great and the good’ to sort their act out, get the decision made and even more importantly, give them the time to get the work done.
Why, I hear you asking, is this important for the recruitment industry? Well it is vital to the growth and success of UK PLC whether our Brexit is hard or soft! Recruiters make sure that the right people are available for the right jobs and it will not just be the aviation industry that will need the right technical people. Recruitment businesses want to export UK talent to Europe (short and long-term contracts especially) and to make this work our infrastructure must be world class.
UK businesses will need foreign talent too if it is to prosper in the world wide economy and we will not be able to recruit the best if flights are intermittent and expensive and do not land where they are needed because our capacity is limited.
Finally we have the Grayling issue. Our esteemed Transport Minister presided over the destruction of the Prison Service when he was Justice Minister. He has managed to change jobs so that his successor is reaping that particular whirlwind. What mayhem is he about to wreck on our overused and under-resourced transport infrastructure?
Who knows……..could he be a force for good…?