In some ways Heathrow’s third runway is like giving your wife an incredibly expensive diamond necklace when you realise your marriage is on the rocks. It will buy you some short term goodwill, but ultimately you’re still in trouble. The £10 billion third runway project might well stimulate some work in the boom-and-bust construction industry, but it does little to address the fundamentals of growth, or indeed offer a long term solution to London’s need for airport capacity: it is lazy policy.
So instead of looking at expensive, shiny baubles, the government’s review should concentrate on getting the basics right: remembering to put the rubbish out, cooking more often, or in the case of London’s airports, making sure they are used more efficiently. Considering an expensive runway as a short term fix to Heathrow’s woes seems mad when you consider that Stansted is running at 50% capacity, with the space for more terminal buildings that would linked seamlessly into existing motorway and rail infrastructure.
The problem is that getting between London’s airports is utterly nightmarish – as anyone who has trekked across the capital to catch a connecting flight knows. Slow bus journeys around the M25 are the order of the day: not exactly reassuring if you have a tight schedule, and hardly an advertisement for modern Britain. The logical solution would be a Heathrow-Stansted rail link, yet this would obviously be a wickedly expensive option given the distance involved.
But curiously enough we already have all the infrastructure in place to operate such a service.
Re-laying the track on a disused rail chord south of Tottenham Hale is all that stands in the way of running trains between the two airports. The Gospel Oak – Barking line is a busy railway, but improved passing loops and signalling would allow passengers to transfer in about 70 minutes.