25 JANUARY 2010


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Article from BTNews 25 JANUARY 2010

COMMENT: The Bow Group

Last week saw some fascinating political wranglings that left the Conservative party out on a limb regarding Heathrow Terminal 6, and the Mayor of London, making his point regarding an international airport in the Thames, but at the end of the day probably having to tow the party line.

Let us start with Boris Johnson and his keenness regarding a huge new offshore airport. Would he have supported such a project if he was still MP for Henley?  Since the constituency relies on Heathrow for jobs and infrastructure the answer is no.

Had he not supported the Thames project who would have?

One specific individual.  His rival and former Mayor Ken Livingstone, a man who vigorously fought for the concept of holding the 2012 Olympics in London and fully expected to play host to the world in three years’ time.  And still wants to.

Johnson holds the cards.  If he would not have been in favour of the airport Livingstone most certainly would have trumped it as his scheme to save London and the airline industry.  Johnston can now say that it is official party policy not to support the estuary project whilst at the same time offering a personal view that the airport is the way forward.  Livingstone is stumped.

The Bow Group report, published last week, is something else. 

Quoting its own web site:

“The Bow Group is the oldest – and one of the most influential – centre-right Think-Tanks in Britain.

The Group exists to develop policy, publish research and stimulate debate within the Conservative Party.  It has no corporate view, but represents all strands of Conservative opinion”.

In spite of those powerful words it is not as influential as it was in the past when its membership included Norman Lamont, Michael Howard and (a still active) Michael Heseltine.

Last week the Bow Group published what it called ‘The Right Track’ Delivering the Conservatives Vision for High Speed Rail.  Whilst High Speed 2 (HS2), the express rail route to Birmingham, is dealt with in some detail, by implication it supported Heathrow T6. 

“HS2 should initially be directly linked to Heathrow Airport through the construction of a Heathrow hub interchange station combining HS2, the Great Western Main Line, Chiltern Line, Crossrail and Airtrack services.  (A) Successful HS2 connection through Heathrow will mean more flights from the airport in the long term as more people choose to use the airport.”

David Cameron used the opportunity to veto once again, very emphatically, the Thames Airport project. 

What, once again, he failed to do was come up with a viable plan for the future of London as the world’s hub for the air transport industry.  The idea of Birmingham, or even Manchester, thriving as long haul gateways, does not pass muster.  We have mentioned in the past the Tokyo fracas over its two airports (and doomed JAL was a great supporter of Narita) but must also point out Sydney (Australia) where a proposed out of town gateway has been abandoned.

Mr Cameroon has a real problem.  One suspects that he may recognise the requirement for the third Heathrow runway.  Business certainly does and probably a vast proportion of the Heathrow conurbation who are dependent on it.  But how does he change course without being seen politically weak with an election due.  His unimpressive Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Theresa Villiers may have to be ditched, or moved.  Will potential Conservative voters abstain, or even worse vote Labour?

The next few months will be very interesting from an air transport perspective.  Decisions made in 2010 will affect the whole country, not just for this decade, but for the next 50 years.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief


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