EVEN THOUGH a third runway at Heathrow Airport was the preferred option of those Yorkshire business leaders who want enhanced air links from this region to the capital, there’s every likelihood that the supposedly landmark report by Sir Howard Davies and his commission will come to mark the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.
The Government is clearly split down the middle on Heathrow after this bumpy landing, despite Ministers playing for time by putting a final decision on hold. This, after all, is one of the totemic issues that prompted one of David Cameron’s “no ifs, no buts” promises prior to the 2010 election when he sided the Tory party with Heathrow opponents.
The issue is also central to the future political ambitions of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who was contemptuous of Sir Howard. As Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman put it at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron finds himself “in a holding pattern, and Boris won’t let him land”.
Yet, judging by the polarising reaction to the Airport Commission’s findings which were conveniently not published before the 2015 election, the Tory turbulence threatens to detract from the bigger picture; namely the need to accommodate more flights so Britain can counter the economic threat posed by those airports in Europe, like Schiphol in Amsterdam, which has just opened a fifth runway.
There have to be more effective ways of pursuing major infrastructure projects; Britain is little further on than a decade ago when the expansion of Heathrow, or Gatwick Airport, was first being contemplated. This does not bode well for HS2.
But why the obsession with London? In all the political ballyhoo, next to no mention was made of the North – and whether the UK’s best interests could be served by additional air capacity in the very region that the Tories regard as being critical to the future economic prospects of Great Britain plc.
Planning gain? Potash mine given green light
IN CONTRAST to the Heathrow hiatus, the North York Moors National Park Authority did face up to its responsibilities by giving permission for a controversial potash mine near Whitby. It was not a straight-forward decision to take, the economic dividend only narrowly outweighed environmental concerns and the Campaign for National Parks hopes to force a public inquiry. Not only should the professionalism and pragmatism of authority members be acknowledged, but these decisions should – wherever possible – be taken locally.
As this application was being contemplated, Kevin Hollinrake – the newly-elected MP Thirsk and Malton MP – was leading a Parliamentary debate on fracking and the concerns of residents in the village of Kirby Misperton which is now at the centre of plans to drill for shale gas. Though the tone of his speech was very much on the side of those who value North Yorkshire’s natural heritage – “We do not want the images of a fracked industrial landscape from North Dakota to become a reality here” – he spoke of the importance of an open and transparent dialogue with the communities concerned.
It is a profound point that Ministers do need to heed if the planning system is to command the confidence of all. As Mr Hollinrake said: “We need to take the public with us, consult, provide expert scientific information and ensure that people do not feel they are being pushed or manipulated.”
The ground war: soul-searching over Tunisia and July 7 landmark
AS THE grim task begins of repatriating the bodies of those Britons, including Leeds couple Christopher and Sharon Bell, who were murdered in the Tunisia beach massacre, the nation’s thoughts are beginning to turn to commemorative events to mark the 10th anniversary of the July 7 atrocity in London.
Understandably the focus will be on the families of the 52 people who were blown up – and the torment still suffered by the survivors. It will also be a difficult time, says the influential imam Qari Asim, for relatives of the three suicide bombers from Leeds who still want to know how these young men were radicalised and what prompted them to wreak so much death and destruction. This goes to the heart of the current debate about the effectiveness of counter-extremism measures. For, while the answers are complex, it is self-evident that nationally-led policies need to be backed up by positive action on the ground to nurture British values in a multi-denominational society.