'Northern Powerhouse appears to be nothing more than rhetoric'
Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Baroness Randerson writes following her Lords question on the impact of additional capacity at Heathrow or Gatwick on the Northern Powerhouse project.
The Tories all too often refer to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, they claim they are investing across the north to ensure government spending is no longer so London centric. So far they have done a poor job.
One area showing their lack of consistency is their airport policy. We are eagerly anticipating the Government’s decision on a third runway at Heathrow, and there will of course be knock-on effects of this decision. What we are likely to see is the increase of capacity in the south, filling London’s already overcrowded airspace whilst ignoring the north of England. You have to ask, how does this help?
Speaking yesterday in the Lords I told the Minister that the south-east of England has one-third of the population of the UK and two-thirds of the flights, yet airports such as Birmingham and Manchester have significant spare capacity. This is basic maths, and, encouraging flights to our underused airports could help other cities boom. This policy risks the opposite, as my Lib Dem colleague Susan Kramer highlighted airlines are likely to be “poached” from regional airports in order to fill the new landing slots created at Heathrow or Gatwick.
It is not just unfair to the north, it is unfair on the south too. Londoners and those living in the south-east face more crowded skies, worse air quality and more noise pollution. This is not conducive to a healthy living environment. Even the chief executive of Heathrow, speaking recently before a Commons committee, failed to provide any detailed strategy for reducing air pollution at Heathrow.
The Liberal Democrats oppose further airport expansion in the south east, the environment cannot handle it. Top of our list of concerns is air pollution, although Heathrow is already so poor that it breaches legal pollution limits. Our London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon has highlighted that 725,000 people are already affected by noise from Heathrow and the proposed expansions would mean an additional 150,000 people living under the flight path. That is nearly a million people very keen to know which way the Government will fall on Heathrow.
Those million people are all living in the south, they are the ones who are affected most directly, but there are many millions more who will be failed by yet another example of the Government’s southern bias. If the money put into this project was directed outside of London it could go a long way to end the disparity in our country between north and south.
The Northern Powerhouse appears to be nothing more than rhetoric. If the Tory plans go ahead London will see its skies further overrun whilst the north has its wings clipped.
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