Heathrow or Gatwick? It's make your mind up time for David Cameron

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, it's a plane. Image: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty.

The author is Labour’s shadow transport secretary.

Few policy problems have proved to be as intractable as providing new airport capacity – but the case for action is overwhelming.

The UK has produced a long list of discarded plans for new airports. Lullingstone, Cubbington and Maplin Sands were all unrealised, and Boris Johnson's Thames Estuary Airport on the Isle of Grain looks set to join them. Even when new runways have been built, they have provoked intense local and ecological protests. The construction of a second runway at Manchester Airport 15 years ago was a case in point.

There is no doubt, however, that we need a new runway. Heathrow is full, and it has been for a decade. Gatwick operates at 85 per cent of its capacity, and it too is effectively full during the peak period. No new full-length runway has been built in the South East since the 1940s.

Redistributing demand to underutilised airports is easier in theory than in practice, and the Airports Commission found that, without action, the entire London airport network would be operating at the limits of its capacity by 2040.

It has become clear over the last few days that David Cameron is hamstrung.  He commissioned an independent report that strongly recommended Heathrow expansion, yet he is also faced with the threat of a by-election triggered by his mayoral candidate if that recommendation is adopted.

Now he has to choose which pledge he breaks: either that “a decision will be made by the end of the year,” as he told MPs in July, or his famous 2009 promise that there would be no third runway at Heathrow – “no ifs, no buts”. 


This continued indecision is deeply damaging for the economy, and it is causing blight for residents who live close to both Heathrow and Gatwick.

It’s vital that questions over the environmental impacts of expansion are addressed; but they must be genuinely investigated and not just used as an excuse to kick the issue further down the road. Aviation accounts for around 6 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and airports have not always been regarded as good neighbours, especially when it comes to noise pollution.

The Airports Commission recommended that an independent noise authority should be created two years ago. This is a sensible recommendation that could have already been implemented without prejudicing a wider decision on runway capacity – so why has the government failed to take action?

We have also taken note of the Environmental Audit Committee’s concerns which were published in early December. Ministers must make sure that when they do bring a proposal before parliament they are doing so on a sound legal basis. There can be no repeat of the West Coast franchise scandal which cost taxpayers over £50m. However, as the Committee itself said, “the government should not avoid or defer these issues”. It’s clear that the report is not a charter for further, indefinite delay.  

Labour will study the government’s proposals carefully, alongside any additional material that is commissioned, and we will respond on the basis of our four tests for aviation expansion:

  • That robust and convincing evidence was produced that the Commission’s recommendations would provide sufficient capacity;
  • That the UK’s legal climate change obligations could still be met;
  • That local noise and environmental impacts can be managed and minimised;
  • That the benefits of any expansion were not confined to London and the South East.

We have also set out a set of proposals which would support the wider aviation industry. The National Infrastructure Commission should study the road and rail requirements of airports outside the South East, and the government should confirm the HS2 Manchester Airport Station as soon as possible. These measures are not, however, in themselves a substitute for new runway capacity in the South East.  

Aviation expansion is a matter of national significance and, having committed to addressing the problem head on, David Cameron faces a loss of credibility if he ducks the issue now. The UK needs additional capacity, but the prospect of any expansion is now in doubt. The country – and people who live under the flightpaths of both Heathrow and Gatwick – deserve better. 

Lilian Greenwood is MP for Nottingham South, and Labour’s shadow transport secretary.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL