Evening Standard comment: The next PM must get on and build at Heathrow; Facebook’s new money; A Serpentine summer

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT
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Evening Standard comment: Language counts as the next Brexit battle looms; Silvertown tunnel is right; Firefighting on show

Seven years after the Airports Commission began work, six years since it said a new runway in the South-East was essential, four years since it picked Heathrow unanimously as the only suitable location, three years since the Government agreed and one year since MPs overwhelmingly backed expansion in a Commons vote after a Cabinet decision in favour of it, the debate over London’s airport capacity has been settled democratically and at length.

It is time to get building.

Today, Heathrow has issued detailed plans not just for the runway itself but on how it will manage the extra passengers who will use it, improve the areas around it and deal fairly with the impact of construction.

It proposes a longer block on night flights, an expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone to reduce the impact of road use on air quality, compensation for home owners whose properties will be lost and a masterplan for the area which would see more green space, cycle routes and new rail links.

It is a responsible way to get on with a necessary project — and over the next 12 weeks the public will be able to give its views in a consultation.

We think they are good plans for the right project in the right place.

That does not mean everything has been sorted. Questions over what the scheme will cost and how it will be financed is still to be settled.

Heathrow’s big customer, British Airways, is adamant that any increase in landing charges, already some of the highest anywhere, must be justified — and if Britain is to remain at the heart of the world’s most competitive aviation network, that’s correct.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates charges and investment, has a challenging choice ahead.

But it is clear that a growing airport can fund the scheme and with Government backing the new runway can be ready for the first flights to land in 2026.

At a moment when Britain’s openness to the world is being tested by Brexit, that needs to happen.

Will Britain’s next Prime Minister agree? He will inherit a project that has already been agreed and is well under way.

If that Prime Minister is Boris Johnson, as is overwhelmingly likely, he might be tempted to revive the opposition to Heathrow expansion he led as London’s Mayor. That was a battle he did not win, because Heathrow turned out to be the best option.

Later on, he stayed in the Government when it backed a third runway and made himself absent rather than vote against it.

Mr Johnson is no longer the Mayor of London, nor is he simply the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. He aspires to be our national leader and that means stepping up and taking decisions in the national interest.

The next Prime Minister will face many difficult choices in their first Red Box. Stopping Heathrow is not one of them.


Facebook’s new money

Until now cryptocurrencies — digital forms of money, issued by groups rather than national governments — have been for daredevils only, unstable, unregulated and unpredictable.

Their value has soared and crashed. You wouldn’t use them to buy a pint of milk. That’s why some have claimed they will never catch on.

Today Facebook has set about proving them wrong.

It’s a fight we think Facebook will win. Not just because it’s a global economic power, with more than two billion active users around the world, and will back its new currency with real assets linked to existing currencies.

But because digital money is already powering ahead in China and the world is looking for an alternative to the dollar.

We may be about to find it.


A Serpentine summer

Today the Serpentine Gallery unveils another brilliant summer pavilion, by the Japanese architect Junya Ishigami.

A lot of credit for the Serpentine’s ongoing success goes to Yana Peel, its chief executive until today. Sadly she’s stepping down after personal online attacks.

She’s done a great job and will be missed.