Robert Goodwill is MP for Scarborough and Whitby, and is a former Home Office and Education Minister.
Last year, the UK made history by becoming the first major industrialised nation to commit to net zero. It represents a spectacular show of global leadership by our Conservative Government. We see evidence of the Climate Emergency every week: from bush fires at the other side of the world to flooding closer to home.
As in other areas of the Government’s ambitious programme, actions speak louder than words. And as COP26 approaches this November, the UK has a once in a generation opportunity to demonstrate that commitment and leadership to the world.
Yet it is not just the Government that are taking action, and this is not an issue that we politicians can tackle on our own – industry must continue to innovate and rise to the challenge. For all the flack the aviation industry gets on carbon, action is what I see. And as a former Aviation Minister, I know that the industry has taken this issue seriously for some years now – they didn’t have to wait for Greta Thunberg wake them up.
The UK became the first national aviation industry to commit to net zero by 2050 when Sustainable Aviation published its ‘Decarbonisation Road Map’. And just this week, the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow, set out its plan for the next decade to help get the aviation industry to deliver net zero.
The plan shows Britain has the chance to lead in innovation, developing technologies that will address the carbon challenge. Heathrow expansion will act as a catalyst to decarbonise aviation – it’s only with such generation-defining programmes that industry ambition is generated and investment in innovation takes place. Expanding Heathrow therefore represents a huge opportunity; and not just because the industry is making great strides to decarbonise.
So why would we throw away this unique opportunity?
Some reports have suggested that if the Government loses its Judicial Review on today, it might not appeal the verdicts. This could mean the project might be halted and this unique chance would be lost.
Constraining one country’s airports doesn’t save emissions, it exports them. Expanding Heathrow will allow the UK to kickstart the low carbon construction industry, whilst also allowing the country to take responsibility for the emissions we generate. If Heathrow does not expand, passengers will simply route via other hubs, exporting emissions to other countries, while sacrificing our own connectivity and trading opportunities – the central tenets of Global Britain.
It also exposes a dissonance between rhetoric on levelling-up and Global Britain and what we’re prepared to stick up for.
Forty per cent of UK exports depart from Heathrow in the bellies of wide-bodied passenger flights – it is by some way the UK’s largest port – bigger than Felixstowe and Southampton combined by value. Expanding Heathrow will open up new global markets and billions in terms of growth opportunities for every corner of the UK.
As a Yorkshire MP, I see the regional and global connectivity only Heathrow provides. We need the hub landing slots to get people and goods from Leeds Bradford (my wonderful regional airport) out to the world. The positive benefits of scaling-up this connectivity are too good to let go – the economic case for expansion is overwhelming and, unlike other major infrastructure projects, it is entirely privately financed.
We’re in denial if we think other European hubs like Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle aren’t waiting in the wings to seize business from UK Plc. If we Conservatives are serious about levelling-up the UK and making a success of Global Britain, we will properly throw our weight behind Heathrow expansion.
So enough daydreaming about unfeasible and unfunded alternatives on islands in the estuary; enough dithering and delay. It’s time to show leadership on the climate and deliver our commitments to becoming a truly global trading nation. To paraphrase the Prime Minister: ‘Enough. Let’s Get Heathrow Done’.