I shall keep my comments as sharp and as brief as I can and address four issues: the economic concerns that I have; the concern about the concept of a hub being undermined if Heathrow is not expanded; the quality of life for people around Heathrow and in my constituency; and, why the other options have not been considered in full.
We live in exceptional times. We have recognised the environmental impact of climate change, we face a banking crisis and we will face an economic recession or, at least, a serious downturn. The question is how painful and deep that downturn will be. Under the circumstances, it cannot just be "business as usual" when it comes to Heathrow expansion; something fundamental has changed over the past few years since the White Paper and, certainly, within the past 12 to 14 months. We must therefore re-examine the case for expansion and challenge the assumptions that underpin our thinking about the creation of a third runway at Heathrow. From what I have heard from the Government Front-Bench team today, I must say that their ideas are painfully stuck in the past, they have not been updated as the facts have changed and there is now a strong demand for the renewal of their thinking.
When the assumptions about economic growth and whether the runway would impact on the environment have been swept away, when the assurances that boom and bust would not return have been exploded, and when the notion that economic growth is inevitable has been turned on its head, it is necessary for us to consider the impact of aviation before rushing into another costly mistake that is out of kilter with the modern world.
Let us be clear: with a third runway, the quality of life of millions of people will be at risk. But before I reach those concerns, I shall make two quick points, so that I do not end up taking interventions suggesting that I am arguing for Heathrow to close or for it to be undermined. First, Heathrow provides a wonderful level of jobs, contributes greatly to the economy and, along with the other four airports around London, is important in our international framework. Nobody in this debate is arguing for Heathrow to be reduced in size or fundamentally undermined.
Secondly, from my personal perspective, terminal 5—despite the massive teething troubles—was great, incorporating the idea that if we want to make Heathrow better, why not create a new terminal that makes life easier and smoother for passengers? I am sure that many other things can be done at Heathrow to make travelling far better for those who pass through it or fly directly from or to it.
I turn to my concerns. First, on the economy, The Guardian suggested in one of its reports that there will be about a 2 per cent. reduction in the number of flights during this winter alone at Heathrow, amounting to 25 flights a day. The argument has been made that even if there is a downturn or a recession, we will still have to take long-term decisions, and that is absolutely right. However, if we have a three-year or four-year slowdown or a slight decrease in activity, it will nudge forward the point at which any project needs to be started. There have been delays, and I take the point about Crossrail, so we need to make up our minds fairly briskly. However, we should not ignore the fact that a slowdown in economic growth delays the necessity for, and start date of, further developments.
As an economics graduate, I must say that the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, which I mentioned earlier in an intervention, missed three or four key variables that we must consider when assessing the economic impact of an airport, the economic impact on the take at the Exchequer and the overall value to the economy. If we ignore the money spent abroad by people leaving the UK relative to the money spent here by people who fly in, we clearly ignore a vast sum. That fact seriously undermines the report.
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