This week the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of the expansion of Heathrow Airport, to create a third runway. This approval from parliament now makes it possible for the operators to come forward with detailed proposals to deliver this scheme. I voted in favour of this motion, believing that it will be good for Kent and the country as a whole.
Currently Heathrow Airport is operating at capacity. This means that new routes to important emerging centres of the global economy, particularly the quickly expanding industrial centres in countries like China and India, come not to London, but to other major European airports like Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam, where there is still room for more flights. There is also pressure at the moment to restrict domestic air routes into Heathrow, from cities like Glasgow and Belfast in favour of more lucrative flights from international airlines, again because of the lack of landing space. Another problem for the south east of England in particular, is that if there are delays at Heathrow for any reason, then planes are required to stack in the air, flying in circles above Kent, Surrey and Sussex waiting for a landing slot to become available. Again, with more runway capacity at Heathrow, the expense and emissions caused by keeping planes in the air for longer than they need to be could be avoided.
Some people have understandably raised concerns about whether an expanded Heathrow will create higher levels of noise and air pollution. However, the government is clear that the airport will have to continue to operate under its licence and confirm to the set targets to mitigate any environmental impact. Such is the level of improvement in the design of new aircraft that many industry experts believe that it will be possible to manage more flights through Heathrow without increasing level of noise or air pollution.
The UK needs a single major hub airport to act as a transfer point for people flying between different destinations around the world. This in turn creates more routes for people starting their journey from this country as well. However, if we want Heathrow to be our principle gateway to the world, it also needs to be accessible to people across this country as well. Whilst more runway capacity will make it possible to increase domestic flights to and from Heathrow, High Speed rail will also make it easier to get to for people across England. Crossrail will certainly help to reduce the rail journey times from Kent to Heathrow, with people being able to change from High Speed 1 to pick up the new service at Stratford, when it opens next year. I would also like to see Crossrail extended to Ebbsfleet, to make this interchange even easier, and to take commuter pressure of the High Speed 1 line into St Pancras.
The preference now given to Heathrow also means that the idea of a Thames estuary airport will not be progressing any further, however there remains the possibility of an additional runway at Gatwick should the demand for increased services their demand it.