Yes, no, yes, no… maybe. The continuing dispute as to whether to build a third runway at Heathrow continues to simmer. This week, Conservative backbenchers once again threatened to rebel against the prime minister, David Cameron, voicing their constituents concerns about traffic, noise, pollution and – a little more quietly – house values.
Another group of Tory MPs yesterday came out in support of the PM’s stance on… not exactly, unequivocally abandoning all prospective solutions, including the possible expansion of Heathrow, or whatever the usual Yes, Prime Minister-like verbiage is during controversial debates.
This seems to be another classic case of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY).
The business world, which has a gigantic, international backyard, screams that the UK is losing billions per year to countries such as Germany and France that seemingly are not under the same pressure. Cameron will leave the issue to one side until the next election, in 2015, and see if the winds of change will give him more leeway with the Liberal Democrats, who are opposed to the idea and, indeed, are in coalition with the Conservatives on the principle that no such runway will ever see the light of day.
It would not be the first time that the exigencies of political survival block business’ competitive zeal. 2015 is too late to make a decision. There needs to be a way of getting more people in now. The events industry is at the sharp end of this dilly-dallying, with BAA Airports Ltd, which owns Heathrow, as well as Stansted, loudly shouting that this lack of extra capacity will by 2021 cost the UK almost £5bn (all business, not just our industry) and the loss of approximately 140,000 jobs. The BAA is quoted as saying: “The lack of runway capacity is a main reason for the current poor standards of service and the lack of resilience at times of disruption, which results in regular delays.”
MP Nick de Bois, a former events agency owner and the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events, is, according to whistle.co.uk, which tracks MPs policy stances, opposed to “all moves to build a third runway at Heathrow and instead wants to improve the quality of service offered by the airport.” De Bois is a London MP, for Enfield in North London.
The pro-expansion body has powerful arguments in these times of austerity, when perhaps a little noise over the stockbroker belt is a small price to be paid. That said, we live on a small, crowded island (more so in and around London), and a third runway does not fit in well with the 2012 London Olympics and director Danny Boyle’s idyllic notion of 'our green and pleasant land'. One joker already labelled this Olympic vision something more akin to ‘Tinky Winky’s Teletubbyland’.
I have to say I do not know the answer. Does anyone? A floating airport in the River Thames? Expansion of airports in Southend (Essex), Lydd (Kent) and Luton (Bedfordshire). I am hoping that the idea bandied about once in a while for a new airport in the North Kent Marshes will be swept under the rug, but this is for selfish reason – I grew up there, watched birds and collected fossils.
Of course NIMBY comes fully to play in my concerns, too, but our industry will suffer, it is generally thought, if we do not act now. We need to act now. After all, other countries are, and to my mind it does not seem likely that any political party will get a majority in 2015, thus starting all these lengthy arguments again. Have you any ideas? Is this lack of expanded runway space really a disaster for the events industry? I’d love to hear from you.