The Government’s sudden jolt of enthusiasm for an estuary airport is interesting for a whole host of reasons. First, the coming consultation exercise will pit an array of vested interests against one another, and the ebb and flow of the arguments they make will tell us whether this country is fundamentally business-focused or environmentally-friendly. That process alone will be fascinating.
Second, the Government’s motivations are worth a second look. At first glance they seem entirely honourable: it is without question time to square the circle between business needs and the pledges given on runway capacity before the last election. But it is indisputably true that the timing is also very helpful for the Mayor. There was a huge risk that ‘Boris Island’ would be a negative for the Mayor during the coming election campaign, giving rivals a chance to scoff at a ‘crazy’ scheme, or to sneer at his inability to make progress. Now he has the prize of a real, genuine, shiny consultation to wave in front of the electorate. At a stroke David Cameron has dealt with a potential achilles heel. Neat, eh?
But the third thing to watch is the reaction of those people who pushed the Government into this corner in the first place: the voters of west London. Having been a Chiswick resident for many years (though no longer) I suspect many of my former neighbours will be cheering this morning. Flight noise will be reduced! Sleep will no longer be interrupted! And, most importantly, property prices will soar!
All I can say is: be careful what you wish for. The reason west London has boomed for many years, the reason it is a vibrant community, and the reason your Victorian semi is quite so expensive may be more due to your unwanted neighbour than you realise. All those big companies sprawling along the A4/M4 corridor are not there because they like the scenery: they are there, at least in part, because of unrivalled links to the rest of the world. If you are happy to upset the equilibrium of west London – and most likely see your property price fall, at least over the long-term – carry on undermining Heathrow. If you don’t, embrace your neighbour and start to question whether you really want Boris Island….