Britain’s creaking transport industries received encouraging news last month. First, the government announced its decision to go ahead with the first phase of HS2, the high-speed railway from London to Birmingham, with later branches to be built, one to Manchester, and one to Sheffield and Leeds. Only days after the HS2 decision, the government said it would look seriously at a new London airport in the Thames Estuary.
It is understandable that those directly affected would be unhappy with such decisions. Many before them have had the experience of finding out they were in the path of or near to a new or upgraded airport, road, railway, power station or other essential infrastructure development, but have had to accept these developments for the greater good.
Such projects, the reasons for them and the sites chosen for their construction need careful thought. Similarly, we need to ensure that it is British expertise and British workers carrying out the projects. Areas of outstanding natural beauty open for all to enjoy should of course be protected and it is a matter for debate how best this can be done: tunnelling is certainly one solution. Rail is far less damaging to the environment than road transport, and airports probably cause the worst transport-related noise pollution.
So if we really need a new airport, any plan to build it where the planes will take off and land over water must be taken seriously. The fact that Boris Johnson is mayor is not a good reason to oppose an airport dubbed “Boris Island”, something that the London Labour Party should think about.
These projects are a response to the fact that old infrastructure has reached its capacity. Both Heathrow Airport and the West Coast Main Line railway are essential transport arteries that are clogged. Very large sums of money have already been spent on trying to enlarge their capacities, but it is clear to most that further expansion of both would be a short-term stopgap measure.
With the huge increase in aviation, other major cities around the world have recognised the need for new modern airports and built them. Most of western Europe now has a network of high speed railways. All Britain has now is a short fast rail line out of the country!
Just as we need energy to develop Britain, we need modern transport infrastructure. The two go hand in hand. Just as we need the state to invest in new power stations, we need the state to build new railways, new airports, and yes, even new roads. But with the mass of people, the working class, in control of the decisions. ■