This morning 30 construction workers were standing in a very wet field near Heathrow armed with JCB diggers. The “chief digger” called them around and told them to “start filling in the hole” they had been digging for months. Some workers scratched their heads, others laughed and one or two asked “why?”
The complete and utter shambles of the UK’s aviation policy is reflected by that hole. The latest ruling – that insufficient attention has been given to the environmental impact – is a damming indictment of both the government, UK industry and our collective understanding of the need for global connectivity.
It is simply stunning that one of the UK’s largest companies can submit a planning application for such a large project without having considered every nook and cranny of the process and respected all of the environmental issues. Some observers may call that sloppy, others may shake their heads in disbelief – I assume some of those heads that are shaking will be rolling in the next few days.
If the UK government did have a UK aviation policy then it has been pulled from under their feet, although as they’ve been sitting on a politically convenient fence for the last 20 years, I can only presume the pole they are sitting on remains comfortable.
The positive impact of aviation on economic growth is well-documented; the requirement for more capacity in London and the south-east is also well documented; the value of connecting traffic that supports thinner direct services is well understood; and the strategic importance of additional capacity to new international markets post Brexit is frequently used in political debate. And yet, an industry as sophisticated and technology advanced as aviation somehow fails to see its way through the planning processes.
Airline growth will now be frustrated, employment frustrated and the economic benefit of undertaking this project frustrated. And why?
We all understand and recognise the need to care for the environment. The investment, effort and work that airlines are undertaking to reduce emissions is huge and delivering results. If every industry was making similar advances in their environmental activities, we would all be in a better place. Instead we’ve handed Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and all those other growing hub airports more business that wanted to come to London. It’s a mammoth own goal!
The workers started filling in the hole this afternoon. Standing in a corner a big guy, wild fair hair, oversize wellies and a high-vis yellow jacket watched with a knowing smile. He slowly turned his back on the hole, went for afternoon tea with his friends and told them: “See, I told you it wouldn’t happen and we’re not to blame; result all round, I’d say.”
John Grant is partner at MIDAS Aviation