Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Heathrow Runway Saga Continues As Freight Interests Voice an Opinion on Government Statement  

Two Sides Line Up for a Continuing Contentious Airport Argument Which Splits Political Colleagues

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Shipping News Feature UK – After two decades of arguments and controversy, today the government actually published some detailed plans for the expansion of London's Heathrow Airport. This after the furore when they decided a third runway was needed two years ago, and the announcement that Parliament will vote to approve the measures before the middle of next month has met with expected responses from the various factions, including the opinions of the freight transport community.

Firstly those actual plans. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, currently under fire for the rail timetable farrago, has announced a package of compensation equating to £2.6 billion to pacify residents in surrounding areas, whilst promising the scheme will only go ahead if controls on both noise and environmental pollution could be met. For families whose dwellings will need to be destroyed a payment of 125% of the property’s value will be made, others will have sound proofing installed for which £700 million is being set aside.

The scheme will see large sections of communities removed from places such as Harmondsworth and Sipson, where after a decade long policy of house purchase, the BAA, now Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd. is said to be already the biggest property owner. The result of today’s statement is that a new runway should be in place by 2026 (or 2030 depending on whose estimate you choose). There will certainly be much political arguing, with Boris Johnson, MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, threatening to ‘lie in front of the bulldozers’ and supported by party colleagues such as Justine Greening and various disparate others such as Sir Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas, Greenpeace and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Lining up with the government are such as the SNP together with a varied assortment of supporters of different political hues, and it should be remembered this expansion was originally a Labour plan, vetoed by the Conservative/Liberal coalition before being revived. The vote on the matter is likely to be contentious and divisive. The reaction from the British International Freight Association (BIFA), the trade association that represents the UK’s freight forwarding and logistics businesses, was understandably cautious given the complex nature of the project and its importance for the industry. Robert Keen, BIFA Director General, sounded a somewhat sardonic note when he said:

“Hopefully, today’s news is the beginning of the end of years of procrastination over the expansion of UK aviation capacity. If that is the case, it is long overdue good news for our 1,500 member companies who have been dismayed over the ongoing delay on such a huge issue. However, we understand that MPs will now be asked to vote on the issue in the coming weeks and, given the track record of parliament on this issue over the last 20 years, uncertainties remain.

“Whilst the UK Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling has previously hinted at an expedited planning procedure, with no reopening of high level arguments, the inevitable legal challenges and the convoluted planning processes that are also likely, lead me to wonder whether any expansion will be completed by the time that UK aviation capacity is predicted to run out in 2025.

“I hope I am proved wrong, but I won’t be booking a ticket for the opening ceremony just yet."

Speaking from the GMB union’s 101st annual Congress in Brighton, which included a joint fringe with Back Heathrow, a community campaign with 100,000 registered supporters predominantly residing in the communities around Heathrow Airport, the reaction of Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, was as expected. He said:

“The time for politicians dithering and delaying on Heathrow is over. This long-awaited vote is crunch time for our members across the country who stand to benefit from Heathrow expansion. We’ve been waiting long enough for this Government to pull itself together and to put this plan to MPs and secure the future of the airport and the jobs it can and will support.”

The union foresees a beneficial ripple effect for British workers due to the immense nature of the project. It points out an expanded Heathrow will need thousands of tonnes of steel and says it will ensure that the privately finance scheme is held to the commitment of using British steel, as well as assuring that suppliers across the UK are the beneficiaries of the works required. Meanwhile the CBI was equally enthusiastic with Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, unable to avoid the ‘B’ word and saying:

“It’s fantastic that the new runway at Heathrow is getting closer to take-off. All the more so as the United Kingdom has waited for nearly half a century for this decision. Expanding our aviation capacity, and creating new flight routes to rapidly growing markets, is mission critical to ensuring Britain can compete on the post-Brexit world stage.

“The new air links the runway will create will unlock growth and help create jobs at home, and enable more businesses, especially our many innovative and ambitious small and medium-sized ones, to export their goods and services to booming markets.

“Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible. From Southampton to the Shetlands, firms in all parts of the UK will be looking to their MPs to approve the National Policy Statement, giving a timely vote of confidence in Global Britain’s future.”

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