Fri, 13 Jul 2018
DISTRICT councillors have unanimously voted in favour of supporting proposals for both a third runway and western rail link at Heathrow Airport.
At a full council meeting, Conservative leader Graham Jones told his Lib Dem counterparts they would be “playing Russian roulette with the district’s economy” if they didn’t back the plans.
Executive member for highways and transport Jeanette Clifford outlined the benefits and told her colleagues West Berkshire would get “all of the benefits and none of the downsides”.
She said the rail link from the Great Western Main Line would bring significant benefits for residents and businesses and that direct trains from Reading would whisk people to the airport in 26 minutes.
Mrs Clifford added that, as a result of the rail link, there would be less congestion on the M4 and at Paddington, reduced emissions and a £2bn boost to the economy with 42,000 new jobs.
The second project, a third runway, would give West Berkshire businesses even better connections to markets around the world, she said.
As a result of the vote to support the two projects, the council has now written to MPs, Network Rail, Heathrow Airport and the Western Rail Access to Heathrow Stakeholder Steering Group.
However, the Lib Dems expressed concerns about air pollution and CO2 emissions and tabled a last-minute amendment asking the council to include these in its letter.
But council officer Andy Day rejected it, claiming it added new information.
During a five-minute speech, Mrs Clifford explained that West Berkshire was perfectly positioned relative to Heathrow, which carries 78 million passengers to 204 destinations in 85 countries every year.
She said: “West Berkshire is globally connected – through the nearby sea and airports that serve the people and businesses of our district so well.
“Among the ports that puts us firmly on the world stage, Heathrow stands out.
“Heathrow is good for West Berkshire – perfectly located, we get all the good sides and none of the downsides.
“These two projects will keep West Berkshire open for business and make it an even greater place to live, work and learn.”
Mrs Clifford said that the UK needed the third runway to compete on the world stage.
She added: “Our rivals could race ahead. Madrid has four runways, Dubai, five, Istanbul, five. We need to up our game.”
Deputy leader of the opposition, Jeff Brooks said: “I am a businessman and I support projects.
“It would have been nice if you could have embraced that amendment. But I am for progress.
“We are going to have to consider our position over here.
“We support it, but I’m just not sure you are emphasising enough in this letter about the CO2 emissions.”
“We have to develop our infrastructure and it is vital to economy, but without that mitigation it is difficult to support.”
He criticised Mrs Clifford for “one of the most rambling motions I have seen in 25 years”, adding: “Brevity is a really good word.
“Sometimes, councillor Clifford, less is more.
“Having said that, your sentiments are good and what you are trying to achieve is something of value.”
Mr Brooks’ colleague Alan Macro added: “I’m very disappointed you can’t add our concerns to the letter.
“Something drastic has got to be done to reduce this pollution.”
Mr Jones, addressing Mr Brooks, said: “I remember being in a council chamber with you many, many years ago when we were talking about the growth of Vodafone.
“You said to the leader ‘do not play Russian roulette with the economy of West Berkshire’.
“Not supporting a third runway and not supporting growth is, in my view, playing Russian roulette with our economy.”
Fellow Conservative James Cole said: “I found myself rather split on this.
“My gut feel was a very firm no.
“I hate the idea of expanding the horrible place that Heathrow is.
“But logic says we have to do it.”
Conservative councillor James Fredrickson couldn’t resist a dig at his political rivals, saying: “On this amendment, there is one narrative here that is the poor little Lib Dems didn’t get the chance to have their amendment heard.
“If only they had actually bothered to submit it in time that might have actually helped things.
“Part of me thinks, have they not just got the spine of a chocolate éclair?
“They are caught in the middle of their national party and not wanting to be seen to be opposed to supporting the local economy.”