John's Jottings for July 2003

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Airports again!

The two big airport issues in Medway are both still very much alive, and this seems to be as good a time as any to have a look at where we currently are with both of them.

Rochester Airport
With the change of Medway Council to overall control by the Conservatives, the future of Rochester Airport has—as promised by Medway's Conservative leaders—been assured.

Although there are still a lot of technicalities and legalities to work out, in essence the once-threatened airport will now be allowed to thrive and improve.

Though there are a comparatively small number of local residents who will not be pleased about this (but one cannot help asking why those folk moved into the vicinity of an airport in the first place if it was likely to be an issue for them), it has to be made absolutely clear that it was precisely because the airport site was sneaked into the deposit version of the Medway Local Plan that our options are now limited to either (a) closure and redevelopment or (b) keep the site as an airport.

Public opinion continues to be overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the airport site as a green space, and a considerable majority of those want the airport to remain. Hardly anyone still believes the (rather obvious) myth that there is any chance of real benefit to Medway and its residents in having the airport closed and the site built upon.

Cliffe Airport
The re-consultation period has now ended, and a decision is nominally expected in the autumn. This decision could well be delayed for some time if legal action is pursued in the European courts, as has been intimated, but that is no reason not to take such action if that is the best way of stopping the madness that is the Cliffe Airport proposal.

With more and more informed judgement coming from the environmental, transport and protest lobbies, as well as local government—most recently the British Airports Authority and Sir Richard Branson—all declaring the Cliffe option a non-starter, there really can no longer be any doubt that this option must be eliminated from the forthcoming government White Paper on the outcome of the consultation and final shortlisting of options still to be considered.

Let's hope that the powers-that-be within central government at last realise that it will be detrimental to their own futures if they continue to pursue the so-called estuary option in any form. However unpalatable it might be to some, the only viable way to expand air travel capacity in the south-east of England is to increase capabilities of existing airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

It must by now be clear to the Blair government that it would be political suicide for the Minister and any other Cabinet member supporting the idea of a new airport in the south-east, and it will most likely be those individuals' own survival instinct that will, in the end, persuade them to abandon the Cliffe idea.

After seeing what happened, this May here in Medway, to their own Party's main spokesmen on the Rochester airport issue (as well as to the LibDems' proponents of that airport's closure) they have no option but to realise just how powerful the ballot box can be when elected members at any level of government go against the people's strongly-held views.

Next time: City Status: Rochester and Medway