Northern Ireland must retain its slots at Heathrow

Morning View
Morning View

The decision making process for increasing airport capacity in southeast England has been marked by reticence, bordering on cowardice.

There are powerful environmental arguments against the expansion of air travel, on the grounds of jet emissions and their contribution to climate change, but the blunt reality is that limitations on such travel have minimal support in Britain or elsewhere in the world.

As people become more affluent, they travel overseas.

Unless a government is prepared to stand in the way of such a desire, the airport capacity in greater London is in urgent need of being upgraded.

The politician who has been most bold in trying to resolve the need for new capacity, Boris Johnson, has – regrettably – lost the struggle to decide where a new runway will be built.

The Conservative mayor of London wanted to see Heathrow closed, and perhaps replaced with luxury housing (which would be well suited to a desirable part of a megacity that is chronically short of housing). He then wanted a huge new airport built in the Thames Estuary.

This magnificent idea, akin to Hong Kong’s construction of a huge new airport out of the city, would have been a reflection of the old entrepreneurial spirit that saw Britain lead the world in terms of infrastructure.

It would have been good for Northern Ireland too, and given travellers to and from the Province access to a single hub point with perhaps the largest choice of international destinations in the world.

But Mr Johnson’s plans were rejected by the Airport Commission (in other words the difficult decision was farmed out to committee).

Now, amid delays to Heathrow expansion, Lord Empey is again highlighting the alarming prospect that Northern Ireland will lose access to Heathrow, due to pressure on spaces.

This must not happen – the Province must not become one of the first victims of the failure to think big on airports.