THE RICHMOND PARK SIDESHOW: WHAT NEXT AFTER THE ‘HEATHROW’ BY-ELECTION?

The Liberal Democrats pulled off a sensational victory in the Richmond Park and North Kingston by-election. They overturned a huge majority to snatch the seat from the incumbent Zac Goldsmith who stood as an independent having resigned from the Conservative Party and triggered the by-election when the Government gave the amber light for a third runway at Heathrow.

Although the new MP Sarah Olney is also against a third runway, I believe the defeat of Zac Goldsmith will send a strong signal to both the Government and Heathrow Airport that the public opposition to it is much less solid than they had expected.

For half a century, the wealthy Richmond constituency has been the bedrock of the opposition to Heathrow expansion. Yet it refused to rally round the candidate who had triggered the election on that issue, decided other issues, such as Brexit, were more important… when given the chance, the residents of Richmond didn’t prioritise the third runway…

The Government has many more hurdles yet to climb before it gets a third runway but it is not inconceivable that, if it does succeed, it will look back and see the Richmond result as the day the amber light turned to green.

These aren’t the words of a pro-Heathrow campaigner. They were written by the leader of the anti-Heathrow expansion campaign, John Stewart, Chair of HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise). John has campaigned against Heathrow expansion for decades and is a shrewd observer of the political landscape. For him to publicly acknowledge that the anti-expansion campaign failed to generate momentum where opposition has been strongest would have hurt but he is right.

Before the polls opened, we wrote that the Richmond Park by-election was an irrelevant sideshow as all the major candidates were anti-Heathrow. Moreover, most residents living in communities nearest the airport are in favour of a new runway and the project has widespread support across the UK.

Zac Goldsmith tried to make the by-election a referendum on Heathrow in order to get re-elected as MP. He failed on both fronts. The voters in Richmond Park decided what the by-election was about and they decided that Brexit and many other issues were more important to them than Heathrow.

The government supports Heathrow expansion and it has the firm backing of a majority of MPs. In south-west London, the people of Richmond Park have publicly declared ambivalence. Even opponents are beginning to realise that sustainable Heathrow expansion is seen is the right decision for the local area and the country. It’s about time.


The Richmond Park by-election is a self-indulgent sideshow

 

Today, many inhabitants of the Westminster village will glance up to take a passing interest in events a few miles west along the Thames. For in leafy Richmond, a by-election is taking place.

Zac Goldsmith triggered this contest by resigning as MP for Richmond Park in protest at his government’s support for a new runway at Heathrow. He then declared his intention to stand as a candidate to become the new MP for Richmond Park in the same election that he had just forced.

Such parliamentary shenanigans may look odd to the outside world - not many people petulantly resign from a job and then immediately reapply - but they are perfectly legal, if extremely costly to the taxpayer. So, the people of Richmond Park will be dragged to the polling booths. Again.

Whilst Westminster and Richmond Park will be focused on the by-election, the rest of the country, and indeed the rest of west London will not. Outside of London’s wealthiest borough, Heathrow’s expansion is broadly welcomed.

Fortunately, many west Londoners can look forward to a bright future now that a new runway at Heathrow has been approved. Whilst there are some opponents in Richmond with legitimate concerns, it is important to remember that Heathrow expansion is backed by most residents living in the boroughs near the airport.

Nor should it be forgotten that whilst Richmond already benefits from plenty of prosperity, this isn’t necessarily the case in other areas of west London where unemployment is much higher. Communities in these areas will really benefit from the jobs, apprenticeships and additional investment that a bigger, better Heathrow will bring.

Last week, Zac Goldsmith organised a rally on Richmond Green to protest against Heathrow expansion, the subject that brought him to resign in the first place. Even the presence of the Liberal Democrat contingent could not swell the numbers beyond a few hundred. The candidates must hope that more people vote on Thursday.

The turnout compares poorly when you consider that tens of thousands of west London residents recently wrote to the Prime Minister to ask her to back a new runway at Heathrow.

The Richmond Park by-election may stir up the media for a few hours but it is a self-indulgent sideshow. Britain deserves better and by expanding Heathrow, our biggest port, we will get it.


Now we need to get on and build a new Heathrow runway!

 

We were promised that Theresa May’s government would decide on airport expansion by the end of October. After years of dither and delay from successive administrations, that promise has finally been kept after the government announced that it was backing a new runway at Heathrow.

The case for expanding Heathrow is overwhelming. From local support to economic investment and from new flight routes to more apprentices, the benefits will be enormous. That’s why we’re delighted that Theresa May has made the right choice for both the country and the local area.

Heathrow is all about people with 114,000 people employed at the UK’s largest single-site employer and 250,000 people who work in the local area relying on the airport economy. We believe a new runway will generate up to 77,000 new jobs, 5,000 new local apprenticeships and £61 billion nationally.

It’s not surprising that Heathrow expansion enjoys huge support in the local area with communities near the airport set to gain through fresh opportunities and investment from a new runway at Heathrow. When Populus conducted a recent poll of more than 10,000 local residents recently, they found that 51% of residents living in the twelve parliamentary constituencies nearest to Heathrow supported expansion whilst only 35% opposed.

The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, received 70,591 responses to its public consultation and 82% were supportive of expansion at Heathrow. More than 53,000 responses in favour came from local residents compared to just 161 responses from the Stop Heathrow Expansion group.

Heathrow expansion is also backed by business groups, trade unions, exporters and most MPs in Parliament. This makes an extra runway not only politically deliverable, but also politically desirable. A recent survey of MPs found that 71% of Tory and 73% of Labour MPs back a new runway at Heathrow so the Prime Minister knows that she can count on the support of Parliament.

Following the vote to leave the European Union, the UK must capitalise on new trading and connectivity opportunities. If Theresa May is serious about making our country ‘a global leader in free trade’ then a new runway at the UK’s biggest port is a sure way to show the world that Britain is ready and open for business.

A new runway at Heathrow will benefit the whole country as we make our way in a post-Brexit world. But it will particularly help the communities near Heathrow who will benefit from stricter conditions on noise, more jobs, extra investment and new opportunities for the local area.

Local people have finally been given clarity and certainty on Heathrow expansion. But the hard work begins now if we are to build a new runway at Heathrow.

The tens of thousands of Back Heathrow supporters who feel passionately about their airport and who want it to succeed in the future have been listened to. For the national interest and for local residents, we need to get on and follow through by expanding Heathrow.

 


GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS DECISION ON HEATHROW WILL BE TAKEN IN OCTOBER

 

As the October nights draw in, we also edge ever closer to a decision on Heathrow. A government spokesperson has already confirmed that there will be an announcement this month so the wait may soon be over.

Ahead of the announcement, Heathrow has, unsurprisingly, featured heavily in the media. Boris Johnson remains probably the most well-known opponent of Heathrow expansion yet even he appears to acknowledge that the momentum seems to be against him. Press reports this week suggested that the Foreign Secretary will not resign from the Cabinet to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” if a new Heathrow runway is approved.

Heathrow is the UK’s largest port, handling over a quarter of British exports. Therefore, it was no surprise that Heathrow's cargo volumes rose six per cent in September on the back of growth to East Asia and Latin America. Heathrow’s success means that it will contribute even more taxes which will go towards helping the local area.

In fact, next year Heathrow will continue to pay the highest rate bill of any business in England and Wales by contributing £118 million, one third of which will be used by Hillingdon council to fund important public services. The irony of £40 million from Heathrow being spent each year in the constituencies of Boris Johnson and John McDonnell has not been lost on us.

Whilst a government decision on Heathrow expansion is expected imminently, the actual Parliamentary vote could still be weeks or even months away. Recent polling found that a majority of MPs in the House of Commons support Heathrow expansion and any future vote will be made easier by this week’s news that the Scottish Government is backing Heathrow’s new runway. This means that many of the SNP’s 54 MPs in the House of Commons are more likely to support Heathrow expansion.

With the government decision expected soon, media interest is picking up. Many journalists want to hear from local residents about why they support Heathrow expansion so that they can understand the benefits that a new runway will bring to local communities. The Guardian is one of these so if you are interested in telling your story, then please write your response HERE. Your stories help to explain why Heathrow expansion is so important for local people so please do click on the link. 

 


FINALLY, A GOVERNMENT THINKING LONG-TERM ON INFRASTRUCTURE?

 

The annual political conferences in Birmingham, Liverpool and other cities across the UK are chances for MPs, councillors and party members to discuss policy, generate new ideas and then gossip over a few too many complimentary drinks.

It was no surprise to hear the Prime Minister say that the government “will shortly announce a decision on airport expansion” as it’s been widely reported in the media that a decision is likely in the next few weeks. But what she said immediately beforehand was perhaps more interesting: “we are a government ready to take the big, controversial decisions on infrastructure in the national interest”.

Whilst it would be wrong to read too much into these words, it is reassuring to know that Theresa May understands the importance of significant, national projects and how they can benefit the UK. Mrs May criticised previous governments’ policy of printing money via quantitative easing and the Chancellor Phillip Hammond echoed her desire to do more to promote major infrastructure. This is likely to be carried out through the National Infrastructure Commission, a body that was modelled on the Airports Commission and established to take the short-term politics out of long-term economic decisions that could benefit the whole country.

Heathrow didn’t dominate proceedings at Labour conference in Liverpool, but with most Labour MPs in favour of Heathrow expansion, especially those in key areas like the North East and parts of Wales, a free vote on the issue now seems highly likely.

Finally, away from the conference cities of Liverpool and Birmingham to Cambridge where the University announced that it has conducted an independent study (which you can read more about here ) which found that Heathrow could build a new runway without breaking European pollution laws. The study measured nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels using 40 sensors in and around the airport and then used modelling to predict what would happen in the future.

When it comes to air quality, opponents of expansion have deliberately interchanged the words ‘Heathrow’, ‘west London’ and ‘London’, blaming Heathrow for most of the pollution in the area. This is despite a huge majority of pollutants originating from non-airport related traffic. Now that independent experts have exposed the weakness in this argument, a key plank in the anti-expansion argument has been removed.

The Prime Minister wants the UK to be a “global leader in free trade” and seems prepared to act in the national interest to make this happen. Soon we will find out whether we really have a government prepared to look beyond a general election cycle and approve a new runway at Heathrow. 

 


MOMENTUM BUILDS BEHIND HEATHROW EXPANSION

This week, all of the political attention has been focused on Labour’s conference in Liverpool and will soon turn to Birmingham for the Conservative Party’s annual gathering.

But elsewhere, the big Heathrow/political story appeared in the Financial Times, the Times and the Daily Telegraph with the news that Theresa May has been told that she has enough support in Parliament to win a vote on expanding Heathrow.

With a decision expected next month, the Prime Minister has been told that Heathrow would win a vote with a “slam dunk” but Ministers don’t believe Gatwick’s plan has enough support from MPs.

Rumours have been circulating that the Prime Minister would offer a free vote, meaning that members of her cabinet could vote against Heathrow without needing to resign. There are not many of them but this sidesteps the problem of how to deal with Boris Johnson and Justine Greening who might otherwise step down from the government.

We are taking nothing for granted but this is good news for everyone who supports Heathrow expansion and confirms what we had previously believed about the high levels of support for Heathrow amongst MPs in Parliament. This month, a ComRes poll showed that two-thirds of MPs support building a new runway at Heathrow making it not only politically deliverable, but politically desirable.

In other news, Heathrow has announced that it will create 5,000 new jobs over the next five years and increase the number of flights by 25,000 if it gets approval for a third runway.

The additional flights, which will include new domestic routes, will come from tweaking the schedule and taking advantage of technological improvements. Some benefits of Heathrow expansion could be delivered four years early, giving the economy a £1.5bn ‘Brexit boost’ whilst a new runway is built.

The Airports Commission recommended expansion at Heathrow as its unanimous choice after three years of independent research. When the Prime Minister and the government decide whether to accept this recommendation they can do so knowing that it will have the full backing of Parliament. 

 


Local residents march to Downing Street in support of a new Heathrow runway

 

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If you were sauntering along Whitehall yesterday, you might have encountered a quirky group of builders carrying a model of an airport runway. If you took a second look you would have noticed that they were all Back Heathrow supporters on their way to Downing Street.

The day started with local residents gathering in Parliament Square for a colourful photograph dressed in hard hats and hi-viz jackets (as you can see from the above photo) to demonstrate their enthusiasm for Heathrow’s new runway.

The group, which included a number of teenagers, mums and pensioners, as well as Lord Soley, former Hammersmith MP, travelled from communities surrounding Heathrow. They then marched from Parliament Square to No.10 Downing Street to deliver more than 30,000 letters from local residents to Prime Minister May, urging her to back the airport’s expansion.

Heathrow is all about people with 114,000 people working at the UK’s largest single-site employer, 250,000 people in the local area relying on the airport economy and 73 million passengers travelling through each year.

Communities near the airport will benefit through new opportunities and investment from a new runway at Heathrow so it’s not surprising that Heathrow expansion enjoys enormous support in the local area. When Populus conducted a poll of more than 10,000 residents last month, they found that 51% of residents living in the twelve parliamentary constituencies nearest to Heathrow supported expansion whilst only 35% opposed.

An extra runway at Heathrow will create 77,000 new jobs in the local region, including 10,000 apprenticeships from the boroughs neighbouring the airport which would help eradicate local youth unemployment. In total, 180,000 jobs will be created across the UK and the benefits to the country are predicted to be worth £211 billion.

As well as enjoying local support, Heathrow expansion is also backed by business groups, trade unions and the majority of MPs in Parliament. This makes a new runway not only politically deliverable, but also politically desirable.

This week a new survey from Comres revealed that 67% of MPs support a new runway at Heathrow. The Prime Minister knows that she can count on the support of Parliament if she gave Heathrow expansion the green light.  

Following the vote to leave the European Union, the UK must capitalise on new trading and connectivity opportunities. If Theresa May is serious about making our country ‘a global leader in free trade’ then approving a new runway at the UK’s biggest port would show the world that we are serious about seizing the opportunities to make this happen.

A new runway at Heathrow will be of enormous benefit to the whole country as we make our way in a post-Brexit world. But it will also particularly help the communities near Heathrow who will benefit from more jobs, extra investment and new opportunities for the local area.

It’s time to back Heathrow – for the national interest and for local residents.


A ‘YES’ TO HEATHROW WILL BE WELCOMED NATIONALLY... AND IN MAIDENHEAD

The summer is an opportunity for most of us to take a week or two off to recharge our batteries. Politicians are no different, with our elected officials off to their constituencies to deal with mountains of casework before heading to the beach (or in our Prime Minister’s case, the Swiss Alps).

But September brings MPs back to Westminster, the government back to Whitehall and the Prime Minister back to Downing Street to face a daunting in-tray ready, hopefully, to finally make a decision on Heathrow expansion during this Parliamentary term. 

Various members of the government, including the Chancellor, Transport Secretary and the Prime Minister, have said that they hope to take a decision on airport expansion by October. This bodes well for the hundreds of thousands of local residents who are fed up of the continued uncertainty.

One of the first steps towards making a decision will be to appoint a new cabinet sub-committee to consider airport capacity in the south-east. This was previously chaired by David Cameron as Prime Minister and Theresa May has said that she will chair the new incarnation - it will be interesting to see who she appoints to it.

When making their decision, the members of the sub-committee will be doing so in the national interest having considered all the evidence. With a new runway at the UK’s largest port projected to generate 180,000 new jobs and £211 billion across the country, Heathrow is the clear favourite after the Airports Commission unanimously recommended expansion at our only hub airport.

The cabinet sub-committee should also examine the opinions of local people living near Heathrow. They should consider that more than 50,000 local residents told the Airports Commission that they backed Heathrow expansion compared with just 161 from the main opposition group.

They may also be interested in the latest poll by Populus which surveyed more than 10,000 people in the twelve constituencies nearest to Heathrow. This poll, from last month, found that 51% of residents supported Heathrow expansion whilst only 35% opposed.

Heathrow has the support of a growing number of local MPs with Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall) and Stephen Pound (Ealing North) the latest to back expansion. They join MPs like Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) and Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) whose constituencies border the airport. London boroughs from Harrow to Tower Hamlets have also joined 34 councils to write to the Prime Minister in support of a new runway at Heathrow.  

One or two media reports have suggested that Theresa May’s constituents in Maidenhead are opposed to Heathrow expansion. However, that is certainly not the impression we get from speaking to our many supporters in Mrs May’s constituency. Maidenhead residents have told us – and Mrs May herself – how a new runway at Heathrow will improve their lives by boosting jobs and local businesses, increasing investment and improving travel through new transport links such as Western Rail Access.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May must make a decision in the national interest, but should she look to her own constituency, then she can feel confident that, come October, she can approve Heathrow expansion for the good of the country, the local area and Maidenhead itself. 


WHY POLITICAL MOMENTUM IS NOW WITH HEATHROW

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It has been a turbulent few weeks in British politics following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. We have witnessed the resignation of David Cameron, a coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson’s non-running for the Tory leadership, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom’s short-lived running in that race, a new Prime Minister and the appointment of a new government.

Hidden amongst all this extraordinary news was the quiet confirmation that the decision on airport expansion in the south-east has been delayed once again, this time until at least October.

Those who care about seeing Heathrow expanded shouldn’t feel too despondent. Theresa May has pledged that her new government will make a decision “in the proper way, in due course” whilst taking into consideration the Airports Commission’s report which unanimously recommended building a new runway at Heathrow. She will be supported by new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who we also encourage to take decisive action.

A recent poll by YouGov found that more than three quarters of MPs (76%) think an expanded Heathrow is an important factor in Britain’s future, especially following the vote to leave the European Union. No fewer than 74% of MPs say that expanding Heathrow would be the primary way of demonstrating that the UK is open for business and ready to be a leading trading nation, compared to only 12% who think the same of an expanded Gatwick.

Many of the recent headlines have focused on the cabinet promotions of Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, two prominent opponents of a new runway at Heathrow. But less media coverage has been devoted to the many Heathrow supporters in the cabinet such as new Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.

Outside of the cabinet, the British Infrastructure Group of thirty-six Conservative MPs, along with five MPs from other parties, recently wrote a report highlighting that a lack of runway capacity at Heathrow is causing "substantial damage to the industry as a whole" and that the delay in making a decision is costing the UK up to £6m a day. Similarly, the Northern group of Labour MPs has backed a new runway at Heathrow to create 5,100 jobs in the North East.

There is enormous political support for building a new runway at Heathrow – across all parties, inside and outside government, in London and throughout the whole country. Meanwhile, not one MP representing areas near Gatwick supports expansion there. Theresa May must know that there would be massive opposition from her own backbenches and in the Tory heartlands to building a second runway in the Sussex countryside.  

There is a vocal minority who vehemently oppose Heathrow expansion but they shouldn’t prevent Theresa May making a decision of huge national significance. An elegant solution would be to allow a free vote in Parliament. This would negate the need for any frontbench resignations, allow MPs with a constituency interest to vote against or abstain while freeing the government and main opposition parties to - hopefully - approve expanding Heathrow.

Local residents living near Heathrow have been waiting far too long for politicians to provided clarity on expansion. In the light of Brexit, it is imperative that the UK demonstrates to the world that it is open for business – what better way than by approving a new runway with many more trade routes at the UK’s largest port and only hub airport? A new government brings new opportunities and there is a golden one at Heathrow if our new Prime Minister genuinely wants to act in the national interest.  


WATCH: RESIDENTS RALLY FOR HEATHROW EXPANSION

 Exactly a year since the Airports Commission unanimously recommended that Heathrow be allowed to expand, hundreds of local residents gathered to demonstrate their support for building a new runway at the UK’s only hub airport.

WATCH: our two-minute film of the rally

Organised by Back Heathrow, the event was held near the airport. Attendees were made up of local residents, families and supporters of Back Heathrow who were united in demanding that the next Prime Minister make an urgent decision on expansion following the Brexit vote.

The EU referendum result makes expansion at Heathrow even more important if the UK is to be a confident, outward-looking nation ready and able to connect with the whole world. At a time of economic uncertainty, the jobs, investment and 10,000 apprenticeships that will come from a new runway at Heathrow will be vital for the local area and the country as a whole. The government’s continued delay in making a decision is simply not sustainable: action is needed and it is needed now.

Speakers at the rally included John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow Airport Chief Executive, Joe McGowan, Lead Aviation Officer for Unite the union and Barry Nelson-West, a local resident.

Joe McGowan said: “The benefits of expansion at Heathrow will be felt in every corner of the country. A new runway will deliver massive investment in skills, training and jobs, providing a huge boost to local communities which is a key reason why Unite is backing Heathrow to grow.”

Barry Nelson-West said: “Some say expansion is not what local people want. Well you do not speak for me, you do not speak for everyone here today, you do not speak for the 100,000 plus supporters of this campaign. And, you do not speak for local people. I’m local and I back Heathrow.”

It was a fantastic event and we thank everyone for attending. But as well as it being a great day out, the rally also demonstrated the huge amount of support for a new runway that exists in the communities near Heathrow.

The government’s continued delay in making a decision on Heathrow expansion is deeply disappointing and frustrating for all local residents. The next Prime Minister has to listen to residents, most of whom support expansion, and finally approve a new runway to allow local communities and the whole country to move forwards.