Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Our wish to Santa – can you please separate planning and politics?

If ever there was a case for separating planning and politics then last week’s government announcement delaying a decision on South East airport expansion until summer 2016 is surely it.

The decision by David Cameron is a blatant and clumsy attempt by the Conservatives to not make Heathrow a campaign issue and protect its position in the forthcoming London mayoral elections.

The government has tried to suggest it is to allow time to re-examine the environmental impact, but the Conservative candidate for the London Mayor is Zac Goldsmith MP, a longstanding and vocal opponent to the expansion of Heathrow.

The government-appointed Airports Commission took four years to make a recommendation on how to expand aviation capacity in the South East, and concluded that an additional runway at Heathrow Airport is the preferred option.

Chancellor George Osborne has made much of his National Infrastructure Commission, but this politically-motivated delay shows the difficulties it might have in operating impartially and making evidence-based decisions.

Not surprisingly the business community cried foul, with the government being described as gutless and putting politics before the nation’s economy. 

While the Conservatives may be looking to protect their position in London and along the M4 corridor, the decision to delay giving the green light to Heathrow will not be helping those local authorities opposing runway expansion at Gatwick. 

In sharp contrast, the Government announced a £250m package of support to find a solution to Operation Stack, with a possible lorry park off the M20. The announcement will undoubtedly lead to local opposition by those communities facing the prospect of a lorry park on their doorstep, but the local authorities – Shepway District Council and Kent County Council – are active supporters.

We must ensure that when the consultation on how to spend the £250m goes ahead it takes into consideration the impact of Operation Stack on Dover, its port, and other Kent communities, as well as how it links with the nationally-important new Lower Thames Crossing.

Piecemeal transport and infrastructure planning doesn’t work. What we must do is step back and consider the bigger picture – and locally that really has to be the job of Kent & Medway Economic Board, and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership. Thankfully both organisations are business-focused. 

We’re sure it’d be easier to get the Kentcentric team a new Raleigh Chopper each, but come on Santa do your magic, we’re sure it’s a wish shared by many.

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