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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
London MPs have confirmed what many residents around Heathrow have been saying for years - most Londoners do not oppose Heathrow expansion.
In an article in City AM this week, Labour MP Wes Streeting and Conservative MP Mike Freer pushed for a government decision on Heathrow expansion. They said: “Failure to act on Heathrow expansion would be to the detriment of the majority of Londoners and the wider UK economy.
“News coverage can give the impression that all Londoners and their representative are against a new runway at Heathrow. This is very far from the case”.
Political opposition is dwindling. Beyond Boris Johnson and his bluster, very few MPs are standing with him to oppose Heathrow. Last month the usual opponents tried to corral London's politicians against Heathrow; despite strenuous efforts, they could only manage to drum up one fifth of London's politicians to oppose Heathrow expansion.
Those against expansion have set up a ‘Coalition Against Heathrow Expansion’ made up of just eight MPs (out of 73 in London and 650 nationally). Last year they sent out 1.6 million anti-Heathrow leaflets to households across London encouraging residents to attend what was billed as “the biggest rally ever”.
Zac Goldsmith MP had spoken of a ‘one-million-strong’ army of Heathrow opponents and Windsor MP Adam Afriyie promised that 15,000 people would rally against expansion from his town alone. But come the day, just a few hundred people turned out to protest in Parliament Square.
The truth is that while there is some opposition to expansion at the UK's hub airport, even the leaders of the anti-campaign acknowledge that more people in local communities support a new runway than oppose it.
A vocal minority claim widespread political opposition to expanding Heathrow but independent polling from ComRes has shown strong cross-party support across Parliament for Heathrow expansion, including Conservative MPs (68%) and Labour MPs (66%). The chairman of the influential 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs has claimed 600 of the 650 MPs would vote for Heathrow expansion.
Some media commentators are suggesting that the government is set to give a green light to Heathrow expansion after the EU referendum. This would be the right thing to do and whilst we can hope, we can’t assume such things.
One thing is for sure: today, six months on from the Prime Minister’s delayed announcement, those living in the areas surrounding Heathrow are still waiting for the certainty that will come from a decision on expansion. It is the Prime Minister’s duty to end the uncertainty that is damaging local communities and provide clarity for both opponents and supporters of a new runway at Heathrow.
Heathrow Airport celebrated its 70th anniversary this week with a series of special events.
Seventy plaques have been unveiled across the airport and photos of Heathrow from the last 70 years have also been released, showing a new side to the UK’s only hub airport and how it began officially operating as London Airport on 31st May 1946.
The airport has hosted many memorable moments including in 1952 when the former Princess Elizabeth stepped onto UK soil for the first time as Queen- her father, King George VI, had died while she was touring Kenya.
The airport has also welcomed the Beatles back to the UK after their first world tour in 1964 and the England rugby team arrived from Australia as World Cup winners in 2003.
It all began during World War II when the government requisitioned land around the ancient village of Heath Row to build a base for long-range military aircraft. The first commercial flight, on 28 May 1946 by Lancastrian G-AGLS Nelson, took 63 hours to reach Sydney.
The first terminals were marquees on Bath Road, equipped with fresh flowers, comfy sofas and Heathrow’s first retail store – a WH Smith.
By 1951 Heathrow was welcoming 796,000 passengers a year and designs were drawn up for a red brick control tower, a passenger terminal called the Europa Building and an office block called the Queen’s Building.
Terminal 1 opened in 1969, by which time five million passengers a year were passing through the airport as the jet age arrived.
Demand for air travel created the need for Terminal 4 which opened for business in 1986 before Terminal 5 opened in March 2008 (below). In 2014 Terminal 2 opened which marked the latest phase of an £11 billion private sector investment that has transformed Heathrow.
Heathrow has progressed hugely over the past 70 years but further changes are needed if it is to thrive in the next 70 years, not least because its two runways are full. In 1949, 400,000 passengers travelled through Heathrow but in 2015 that figure had risen to 73 million. That’s why we at Back Heathrow continue to campaign for Heathrow to be expanded so that it is bigger, better and equipped to succeed in the future.
To find out more about Heathrow's 70th anniversary please click here
Onlookers in central London may have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief as a giant white elephant passed them on Wednesday.
The elephant – full name ‘Gatwick 2nd Runway’ – was nattily dressed in Biggles-style flying cap and goggles as he made his way around Parliament Square, passing the Houses of Parliament before flying down Whitehall.
The Gatwick White Elephant passed the Prime Minister’s Downing Street residence and also made a flying visit to City Hall, soaring over Tower Bridge.
You can watch a video showing how the elephant's tour progressed here
It was all a bit of fun that we at Back Heathrow hope makes a serious point and sends a clear message. We wanted to demonstrate why a new runway at Gatwick risks becoming a white elephant if it is not used by major airlines. Many want to use an expanded Heathrow but are prevented from doing so as it is already operating at full capacity, unlike Gatwick.
BAR UK, a trade organisation representing over 70 scheduled airlines operating in the UK, has stated that: "The majority of BAR UK airlines have maintained their view that expansion at the UK’s existing hub airport, Heathrow, provides the most compelling solution [to a lack of aviation capacity]."
Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of IAG, has stated that there is "no business case" for Gatwick expansion while Dame Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of EasyJet, has said: “No one is screaming for capacity at Gatwick. There is no demand. Everyone is screaming for capacity at Heathrow.”
The UK desperately needs additional aviation capacity in the south-east and the answer has always been to expand at Heathrow. It is the clear and unanimous choice of the independent Airports Commission; MPs, airlines and major UK business groups all prefer Heathrow expansion over Gatwick; Heathrow is operating at full capacity with more than 30 airlines wanting access; and airlines often move from Gatwick as soon as slots at Heathrow become available.
It makes the most sense to expand at the airport where demand is highest and that means in West London not West Sussex. Building a new runway at Gatwick risks building an expensive, giant white elephant that may sit underused because airlines would still prefer to fly from Heathrow.
The government has acknowledged that the UK needs additional air capacity in the south-east but for far too long it has dragged its heels over making a decision. It’s time to make that decision and it’s time to expand Heathrow.
This week’s announcement by Heathrow Chief Executive, John Holland-Kaye that Heathrow will meet and exceed the conditions laid down by the Airports Commission is great news for anyone interested in the future prosperity of west London, the Thames Valley and the whole of the UK.
Our country has been plagued by indecision on airport expansion in the south east for months, years and even decades but this important announcement will help sweep away the barriers to finally building a vital new runway.
The news is a tribute to supporters of Back Heathrow and to the positive way they have conducted themselves during this campaign. Our supporters are local people who care passionately about their communities and want them to thrive and prosper in the future. They are united by a desire to see local jobs protected and Heathrow’s future secured.
The government has long known why Heathrow is the answer to Britain’s aviation capacity problem; a new runway at the UK’s only hub airport will offer new flights to emerging markets, protect existing jobs and create 77,000 new jobs and thousands of apprenticeships in the local area. It was the “clear and unanimous” recommendation of the independent Airports Commission – set up by the Prime Minister.
But Heathrow’s new announcement takes the process to the next stage and strips the government of any lingering excuses for not supporting a new runway. Even anti-expansion campaigners said Heathrow had “gone further than expected” and that the move “could turn out to be significant”.
Click here to view full details of Heathrow’s announcement.
As the UK’s largest port, a successful Heathrow is vital to the health of British economy - it is the only way to connect all of Britain to global growth and the only way to guarantee its future success is to expand.
With these new commitments in place Heathrow has passed the test of balancing the huge economic gain from expansion with the local and environmental impact. The case for a new runway at Heathrow is overwhelming; it’s time to get on and build it.