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Lib Dem MPs challenge Government’s support for Heathrow expansion

November 11, 2008 5:06 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat MPs challenged the Government's support for a third runway at Heathrow in a House of Commons debate yesterday.

The party's Shadow Transport Secretary, Norman Baker MP, said that the Climate Change Bill currently passing through Parliament would be undermined by a decision to expand Heathrow.

Thanks to pressure from the Liberal Democrats and other campaigners, the Climate Change Bill sets a target for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions. Air travel is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions in the UK at present.

"We need an 80 per cent target, because the climate change challenge that we face is enormous. But how can it possibly square with the construction of an extra runway at Heathrow?" asked Norman Baker.

Norman suggested the possibility of high-speed railway development should be properly explored, given that any expansion of Heathrow would take the Government well beyond its own NO2 target. He referred to earlier remarks from the Secretary of State, regarding the climate change targets, which confirmed:

"...that the existing pollution from traffic in London, including around Heathrow, will already put the Government beyond the NO2 limit."

He questioned why railways had not been considered as a long-term solution, in contrast to the 30-year strategy for aviation:

"...why does the rail strategy run out in 2014? Why are there no plans beyond 2014 to improve our railways? We have some longer platforms and trains now, but there are no plans beyond 2014-no lines opening, no commitment yet to high-speed rail, no electrification. A lot of things have been talked about, but nothing has been delivered on beyond 2014."

Norman pointed out that current short haul flights to Paris and Manchester could be replaced by high-speed rail services. He also advocated linking high-speed railway services directly with Heathrow. Norman cited similar successes with similar projects in Europe.

He raised the issue of the cost of travel and its effect on demands:

"The average cost of a one-way flight in the United Kingdom has declined from £205 in 1997 to £103 today...Meanwhile, the cost of travelling by rail, which is much more carbon-friendly, has increased by more than the rate of inflation, and the Government refuse to rule out further above-inflation increases...That is not a sensible climate change policy, by any stretch of the imagination."

Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park, which is under the Heathrow flight path, complained that consultation for expansion had neglected local residents, who had previously been assured that the Terminal 5 expansion was to be the last:

"When they hear the word "Heathrow", BAA and the Government think about the airport and the passengers and forget the surrounding communities."

She also bemoaned the lack of detail following government consultation with the business community regarding expansion:

"I thought I would see a proper analysis of business in London and what it needed in the way of transport and aviation services. It was not there. We have a generalised analysis that says, "If fares go down, leisure traffic goes up, and we assume that fares will go down, therefore leisure traffic will go up."

Susan said her own consultations with businesses had concluded:

"Businesses want a service that works for them, which is all that they need. They need a reasonable number of services to the main destinations around the globe. They already have that, and growth is not required."

Read Norman Baker's full speech here

Read Susan Kramer's full speech here