Last week’s ferry strike in Calais and the Airport Commission report into airport capacity may have at first glance little in common. However both highlight to us Brits that we are an island highly dependent on a handful of transport pinch points.
Anyone who has watched a ferry unload at Dover will be amazed at the long line of trucks trundling off the ramps heading to all four corners of Britain. We literally see the country’s trade unfolding before us.
Any blockage at either Dover or Calais – inevitably the latter – causes immediate chaos. Operation Stack means the M20 is closed while thousands of pounds worth of perishable stock is trapped inside trucks. If the ports closed for a period longer than a few days then trade would be seriously affected. We are highly, even dangerously, dependent on that Dover-Calais crossing.
We are also over-dependent on Heathrow as the UK’s international hub. The report by Sir Howard Davies recommending another runway at Heathrow is only the starting shot in a protracted political battle in which several cabinet ministers plus Boris Johnson are ranged against the proposal.
We need to move away from our dependency on Heathrow. Even aside from the noise and the pollution from the planes, roads around the airport are already heavily congested as the pro-Heathrow lobby recognises with the proposal of a local congestion charge.
The M25, already at six lanes at the M4 junction, will have to be tunnelled under the new runway at huge expense. I have never known a time when Heathrow was not demanding expansion and it will be back for more even if another runway does go ahead and even though the commission insists there must be no fourth runway.
When we are trying to shift economic growth outside London expanding Heathrow seems to fly against that strategy.