Baker & Kramer lead Lib Dem opposition to Heathrow expansion

by Stephen Tall on January 16, 2009

Yesterday Labour’s transport secretary Geoff Hoon announced to the House of Commons that the Government was giving the go-ahead to the expansion of Heathrow airport.

The Tories are officially opposing the new third runway, though there are many splits in their ranks, from shadow cabinet members and Tory MPs, to Tory bloggers, to Oliver Dowden, their Director of Political Operations.

Lib Dem opposition is wholehearted, embracing both those who believe the Heathrow business case is fundamentally flawed, as well as those who point to the environmental destruction that will result. Lib Dem shadow transport secretary Norman Baker and Susan – who’s leading the party’s campaign against the expansion – both responded to Mr Hoon’s Commons statement yesterday. The Hansard transcripts of their comments follows:

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Perhaps the Secretary of State could place his written answers to questions in the Library. I declare an interest as the beneficial owner of a very small, recently acquired piece of land at Sipson.

The decision to proceed with the third runway is the worst environmental decision that the Government have made in 11 years. It drives a jumbo jet through their Climate Change Act 2008, on which the ink is barely dry. With a commitment to a reduction of 80 per cent. in carbon emissions, how can the Secretary of State and his colleagues possibly justify the construction of a new runway? It is also one of the worst political decisions in 11 years, on a par with that on the millennium dome. It has huge opposition in the Labour party, and has united the opposition in the House and in the country and destroyed the Government’s green credentials. I make it plain that the Liberal Democrat manifesto will include a commitment to reverse the decision. That is not insignificant given the likely arithmetic in the next House of Commons.

Will there be a vote in the House in Government time on the matter? Will we be allowed to make a democratic decision? If the Government were defeated—I believe that they would be—would the Secretary of State accept the democratic will of the House and abandon his plans?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister promised a planning inquiry into the third runway proposal. Will that be a proper inquiry in traditional planning terms, or will it be held by his new puppet body, the Infrastructure Planning Commission? If the latter is the case, when will the Secretary of State bring the relevant national policy statements before the House?

The promises about Heathrow are not worth the paper they are written on. Time and again, the Government and previous Governments have broken them. For example, when terminal 5 was approved, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed that a third runway would be “totally unacceptable”. Are not Government promises about Heathrow akin to a pledge from a fox not to harm chickens?

The Secretary of State said that additional flights would occur only if air quality limits were already fulfilled. The following page of his statement gives an indication of the number of flights that will take place. Does he seriously want us to believe that, if a runway is built, it will not be used? Does he expect us to believe that more weight will be given to a target that he sets than to a concrete runway? If the runway is built, it will be used, irrespective of any promises he makes today about air pollution. The effect of the green slot principle will simply be to concentrate dirtier planes on runways 1 and 2. It will make no difference to the type of plane used generally at Heathrow.

Has the Secretary of State received confirmation from the CAA that the extra flights can be safely accommodated?

The Secretary of State’s comments on rail have been cobbled together at the last minute in a desperate attempt to sugar the poison pill of a third runway. No commitments to high-speed rail have been made today. He said that he will establish a company to “consider the case.” The case has been made—Network Rail has already done a great deal of work on it. We are simply kicking high-speed rail into the long grass again in an attempt to find something that will make the third runway at Heathrow sound palatable today.

It is a terrible day for the environment and for the Secretary of State and his colleagues in government. However, the opposition in the House and in the country is such that the third runway will not be built.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The constituents of Richmond Park will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the constituents of Hayes and Harlington and the people of Sipson in this continuing campaign to oppose the third runway, and I believe that we will succeed. The Secretary of State did not say what would happen to the 700 families in Sipson that will lose their homes and, as yet, have nowhere to go. The history of Heathrow has been one of continual broken promises: they are abandoned as soon as they become inconvenient. My constituents will be relieved to hear the words he has said on mixed mode, but how can they have confidence in what he has said, rather than consider it as a temporary measure to abate opposition while progress on the third runway goes ahead?