(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
So the decision’s been taken and Heathrow is getting a third runway. Business experts say we need more capacity in order to compete with European hub airports. Experts have been telling us all sorts lately, and I’m sceptical. Anyway, if we need a new runway, I’m glad it’s Heathrow.
For as long as I remember, we’ve been told that airport expansion destroys the environment and devastates communities. But those captains of industry are saying we need more planes, and more space on which to land them on. Never mind that air quality will plummet, wildlife put at risk, and villages cut in half – this is good for Britain. I hear four thousand homes are at risk in the villages around Heathrow. The fuel aeroplanes use is at least as bad as the stuff our cabs run on – and I’ve heard no calls for electric capability here. Or a Congestion Charge.
Business people are also driving the expensive and damaging HS2 project – all to save twenty minutes on a journey from London to Birmingham. I thought we lived in a technological age. I didn’t think business had to be conducted face to face anymore. Surely most of it could all be done through video conferencing? Technology allows people to work on trains, so I’m not convinced HS2 is worth it. I’m sceptical about anything big business bods tell us: it never seems to be for our good, always for the benefit of big business shareholders, and for those high rollers jetting around the world on jollies. Concerns about community and environment always seem to be trumped by business concerns. I presume it’s the same business people who also said we needed to remain part of the European Union in order to compete. I still suspect they only want us in the EU so they can access cheap labour from Eastern Europe. Fracking is another controversial pursuit, and even if it proves to be clean and safe, you can be sure that the main beneficiaries will be the shareholders involved in the project. I notice that it’s started up north, a few hundred miles away from the bulk of Tory voters.
I’m not sure why Luton Airport wasn’t looked at for expansion, as getting to Luton from Central London isn’t too bad. Speaking personally, for last summer’s annual holiday I left a two-hour carbon footprint driving my diesel-powered filth cart to Gatwick. Luton would have taken me only twenty-five minutes, and I might have been able to do it on public transport. I’ve heard City Airport is a nice hassle-free airport to fly from, but I’ve dismissed it as an airport to use for my summer holiday as I imagine the nightmare of carting suitcases across London by tube and the Docklands Light Railway. I could make it to Euston and get a cab, but I know what dent the fare could make to my holiday funds should we encounter any flak. Stansted is a bit of a slog driving through Hackney and Walthamstow. Heathrow is closer and is reasonably accessible by road.
If expansion at Heathrow results in more passengers it follows that we’ll enjoy more custom too; but to some extent what we’d gain in increased custom would be offset by traffic congestion. We’ll lose some customers as extra congestion will put people off making the journey by road. This is why I would’ve opposed London City Airport or Gatwick. City Airport is closer to Central London than Heathrow, but the journey by road is a nightmare. It can cost the passenger just as much in money and time as the longer run to Heathrow if the Cycle Superhighway is in a particularly angry mood.
I’ve never understood why Gatwick is marketed as a London airport. It’s nearer to Brighton than it is to Central London, and on an average day it takes ninety minutes to drive there. On the rare occasion a customer asks me to take them for Gatwick I always explain that it’s going to be a long, horrible, and very expensive drive through some of South London’s busiest High Streets. I normally try to put them off and drive them to Victoria instead. The only thing that would make Gatwick viable for expansion would be if a motorway was built from Stockwell. I’d only support expansion of Gatwick if Streatham High Road was also expanded.
Birmingham was never mentioned in discussions. Experts say there isn’t the demand outside the south-east, but if HS2 is built we’ll be able to get from Euston to Birmingham Airport in about an hour.
So, most people agree that an increase in air travel is a bad thing, but the government have decided to support it anyway. Planes are Bad, Bad, Bad! That’s why we pay extra taxes to fly these days. Occasional holidaymakers like myself are charged extra taxes, but they should tax the frequent fliers and leave the occasional users alone. Mind you, we won’t see it in action for at least nine years. Call me controversial, but stuck in traffic today, I was wondering whether planes normally using City Airport could land on the deserted strip of the cycle superhighway at weekends?
(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).