Now that runway three at Heathrow has been approved we’ll be subjected to sound bite after sound bite from the various protagonists trying to turn a very complex matter into a simple black or white issue.
The government has offered a poisoned chalice for the Conservatives and if they win the next election it seems unlikely that they would cancel the project. But putting in a high speed rail link instead of the third runway, as the Tories propose, is not the way to go about it either. We need both.
Are we going to have a choice of travelling options: rail or air, or bus or car, where the most effective choice will always work? Or will we be told how to travel, whether it works or not? To achieve the former we would need a true integrated infrastructure with seamless transit between modes of transport.
But it’s the latter that seems to be the norm. Today, with a fragmented rail system, even transiting platforms with the right ticket is not that seamless at times.
Unfortunately, the real British disease is fragmentation. We know it well in the construction industry, but it is all-pervasive and creates massive inefficiency and less accountability. We have it with all the quangos and government agencies and pseudo-government agencies and half-baked partnerships, and we see it very clearly in the failed attempts to develop a national transport strategy and infrastructure. Empty buses clog the streets as far as the eye can see in London and there are no bus services at all in some parts of the country that desperately need them.
The government’s reliance on future technology to solve the environmental issues is a gamble, especially given the Climate Change Bill and the legal commitment to reduce emissions by 80% in 2050. And whether our 80% reduction will have any impact is another matter, considering that the fudge at the recent EU summit of a commitment to 20% emission reduction (of 1999 emissions) by 2020 only represents something like a 4% reduction on where we are today.
Government needs to get a grip on transport policy and stop pretending that the free market can deliver infrastructure provision. Why are London’s airports not within Transport for London’s control?
I suppose that would be too integrated and too much like common sense.
Chris Blythe is chief executive of the CIOB