We need additional airport capacity now. So why are we bothering with a scheme that will never take off?

Despite having received the support of numerous governments of different political hues, there’s a good reason why, even after decades of deliberation, not a single ounce of asphalt has been laid at Heathrow’s proposed third runway: it’s impossible to deliver.

The scheme, for a whole raft of well-rehearsed reasons, is a recipe for judicial review. From Windsor to Wandsworth, lawyers will be licking their lips at the mere prospect of it being approved later today.

Take, for example, the fact that it already generates more noise than its five largest European rivals put together, or that, once expanded, it would account for 58.9% of the UK’s aviation carbon limit. That’s before you even consider the exorbitant sums of public money needed to subsidise surface access to the airport, which, funnily enough, hasn’t been accounted for.

Heathrow will not meet the legal tests on air quality, its new flight paths haven’t yet been identified, considerably more people will be affected by noise, and it proposes 700 additional planes over our capital every day, all with no safety plan (bear in mind that the airspace above London cannot physically be expanded). The risk attached to the scheme – unlike Gatwick, who already have their land set aside – is simply too high to make it a viable option.

It is for these reasons, and a host of others, that four local authorities, with the backing of Greenpeace and the Mayor of London, have already committed to launching a legal challenge if the National Policy Statement on Airports is given the green light this afternoon. Others, including Hammersmith and Fulham, will undoubtedly follow suit.

Even with a fair wind, and supposing the scheme actually receives planning permission, it will leave the process beaten black and blue and heaped with so many conditions that the final result will be a husk of the proposals originally put forward. There is simply too much opposition to it, based not on nimbyism or parochial self-interest from the communities affected, but on sound legal judgement. When the arguments for or against it are debated later today, a sense of déjà vu will inevitably strike many of those watching the proceedings. We have been here before, and for the very same reasons, Heathrow will flounder again.

What’s worse, we need to address existing aviation constraints now. The Airports Commission has itself recognised that the cost of failing to increase capacity amounts to £21-23 billion of costs to users of airport infrastructure, and an additional £30-45 billion of costs to the wider economy, over a 60 year period. In other words, there is a premium on speed.

Why then are we chaining ourselves to the project that will be blighted by delay after delay, and more than any other, puts people’s noses out of joint? There are plenty of good alternatives that offer almost identical economic benefits, as well as more favourable options for short and long haul routes.

This is a huge infrastructure project. We need to get the detail right, provide confidence (not least to the 783 households that would see their homes demolished) that every minutiae of the plan has been properly considered, and be mindful of what’s realistic.

It’s not too late to make an emergency landing, scrapping these deeply damaging proposals and charting a better alternative route for the UK.

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