Sharma rudderless on Heathrow
19 October 2016
Ealing Southall's elusive MP, Virendra Sharma, has finally said in public what he had long hinted in private. He now supports Heathrow expansion. That is, he has thrown the interests of his constituents out and reneged on a key promise he made in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Suppressing incredulity at the way Sharma presents his 'epiphany', it feels appropriate to examine the basis on which Sharma claims to have been converted.
Sharma lists 'the environment, living standards, and opportunities for young people' as his criteria. We think he is wrong on all three.
It would be remiss of the Green Party to fail to remind our climate-forgetful colleagues in Labour that global warming is an imminent and threatening disaster for humanity, on a scale sufficient to wake both China and the US up to committing to 1.5 degrees of warming. In that context, expanding an airport already responsible for Europe's greatest cause of CO2 emissions is negligent on a global scale.
By 'living standards', we understand the airport's key impacts to be noise and air pollution. It is obvious that an expanded Heathrow would result in more planes, and more car journeys to service them. All things being equal, that means more death-inducing air pollution and worse noise. Heathrow's proposed mitigation (buying a few people some new windows) sounds nice, until you realise that this is useless if you ever want to open one. If you have ever endured a week of trying to decide between roasting in heat or waking up at 5am to plane noise every 45 seconds, you will know that this is Hobson's choice.
Sharma has been fooled into thinking that Heathrow's solution of charging noisier planes a higher landing fee is a winner. Noisier planes are bigger planes; the extra cost of landing fees is easily covered by the additional passengers, so is no disincentive to the airlines at all. The idea that building an additional runway will make planes quieter or cleaner is ridiculous.
Opportunities for young people
Mr. Sharma has apparently been sold on the fantasy that Heathrow expansion will be good for local jobs, despite the government's own Airport Commission confirming that Heathrow expansion will simply suck more people into the area. Heathrow is a major local employer, but enduring youth unemployment is everything to do with educational opportunities, not a lack of airport jobs. Wheeling out Lord Blunkett to make vague promises about apprenticeships is no substitute for proper government funding for engineering degrees.
Reading like an extract of Heathrow's PR manual, Sharma cites the economic argument. At a time when business is going digital and Brexit is exacerbating a slowdown in trade growth, this also looks weak. Our 'favourite' is the claimed benefit for local business. Have a chat to your local butcher and ask how much of his passing trade has just stepped off a plane. We are asked to believe that cramming more suitcases onto packed Piccadilly Line commuter trains will be to our benefit. Piffle. The 'expand or lose it' argument is a hideous fallacy put about by Heathrow to scare us into agreeing to their terms. While hardly perfect, carrying on as today is clearly an option for any airport. It is commercially and operationally viable; there is no 'burning platform' (except, arguably, the planet).
Mr. Sharma, you have failed us. Please stand down and let the good people of Southall replace you with an MP who will keep their promises.