First Person: 'Do we need a new runway at Heathrow? We need two. And that's just for starters'

Posted by ap507 at Jan 08, 2016 11:50 AM |
Dr Simon Bennett discusses the need for more runways at UK airports
First Person: 'Do we need a new runway at Heathrow? We need two. And that's just for starters'

Source: Leicester Mercury website; A plane in fog near Heathrow

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to

I rarely side with Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's Unite trade union. Comrade Len is right about one thing, however. We need a new runway in the south east, and we need it at Heathrow.

Heathrow is a victim of its own success. Conveniently situated for easy access to one of the world's great cities (no, not Reading), every successful airline, from American to Emirates, wants to use Heathrow. The airport is one of this country's most efficient wealth multipliers. Directly and indirectly employing 206,000 people (2010 figures), Heathrow fosters inward investment and contributes handsomely to the Exchequer.

Not building a third runway will damage the environment. Why? Because congestion forces controllers to stack Heathrow-bound aircraft over the south east. Low-flying stacked aircraft burn huge amounts of fuel. The negatives are obvious: fuel wasted; more greenhouse gases produced; passengers frustrated; Britain's reputation as "a good place to do business" damaged; and pilots exhausted. Pilot fatigue is a safety issue.

Laws made by Parliament can be unmade by Parliament. Here is what our government should do: it should sweep away the planning and environmental legislation that is strangling this country's economy. Then, for once, it should act confidently and with vision.

Two more runways should be built at Heathrow, one more at Gatwick and one more at Stansted. New, dedicated high-speed rail links should be built to deliver passengers in air-conditioned, thick-carpeted comfort into the heart of London.

While anyone affected by these new schemes should be adequately compensated, they should not have the right to endlessly block and frustrate those who wish to restore Britain's fortunes.

Finally, a few words about this country's tendency to shoot itself in the foot. We are rightly celebrating Major Tim Peake's arrival at the International Space Station.

Like Andy Murray, Tim is a great ambassador. While not wishing to diminish his achievement or pour water on the national celebration, I want to remind you of an inconvenient fact: following the successful October 1971 launch of Britain's first satellite – Prospero – atop a British-built Black Arrow three stage rocket, the government summarily terminated the programme.

Had the government kept its nerve, Tim Peake might have travelled on a British-made rocket launched from the Woomera, Australia space-port to a British-made space station.

Here is my New Year's message to messrs Cameron and Corbyn: Learn the lessons of the past. Have faith in British ingenuity. Revive the spirit of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

You have nothing to lose but your inhibitions.

Dr Simon Bennett is Director of the Civil Safety and Security Unit, at the University of Leicester

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