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.