GORDON Brown has shown good judgement and considerable courage in giving the go-ahead to a third runway at London's Heathrow airport. Some 50 Labour MPs are strongly opposed to the idea, among them a few who may lose their seats at the next general election as angry constituents likely to be affected by noise and congestion get their own back. The environmental lobby will have a field day as they oppose every move towards implementing the decision -- quite literally since one of the protesting groups has purchased a field just where the new runaway will be sited. No doubt a compulsory purchase order will take care of that problem but meanwhile it makes for good publicity.

The threat by the Conservatives to abandon this project if they are returned to office at the next election is opportunistic. Little if any ground work will have been done by mid-2010 and cancelling the runway would be relatively painless. But the problem to which this third runway is a solution -- the expansion of Heathrow to keep it Europe's foremost hub airport -would remain. The Conservative alternative of a new high speed rail link to the Midlands does not address the hub problem and, in any case, the prime minister has added a rail link to his proposal. Boris Johnson's idea for a completely new airport on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary is impractical and appallingly expensive. With Heathrow currently running at more than 90 per cent capacity, the third runway is essential.


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