Heathrow: A few Paternal Acres Bound

Energy & Transport
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Sean Spain


Heathrow has always been, understandably for those impacted, a contentious topic. The noise will likely become more disruptive, the air likely more polluted, and the M25 will become a wall of traffic so thick it’ll make Trump salivate.

In times like these we as residents, as constituents, and as a country face questions which challenge us on a level beyond economic reasoning. Deeper than economic reasoning, broader than personal beliefs, we sometimes are challenged by sentiment. In times like these, it’s the great poets who map a course away from colourless facts and tasteless statistics.

And who could be a more appropriate poet to strengthen the resolve of those who reject Heathrow expansion than Alexander Pope:

Happy the man, whose wish and care

A few paternal acres bound,

Content to breathe his native air,

In his own ground.

Pope’s picture of man in nature strikes one as just that: a picture, a snapshot, a still moment.

In that picture, Pope evokes a few paternal acres which support fields of bread, herds of milk, flocks who supply him with attire, trees in summer for shade and fire.

Unfortunately for residents in greater London we are all out of fields; and our shirts, bread and milk are supplied directly, or indirectly, from a framework of international trade and trans-national business operations. Our few paternal acres are no longer sufficient to support habitation.

So we must appreciate that the expansion of Heathrow is about so much more than the convenience of a businessman flying from New York to India, having to decide between a connection via London or Amsterdam. Rather, it’s about us—the land owners—ploughing our fields. We need to plant more businesses, attract some sheep, and be as prepared as we can for rough weather ahead.

Forecasters expect roughly 180K more jobs, and roughly a £147 Billion overall addition to the economy (The Airports Commission, July 2015). But we mustn’t read this as an economic argument. We have to review the sentiment behind the number. 180,000 more jobs mean 180,000 more people who get to wake up in the morning with a purpose. It means thousands more people who can save- for their own little patch of green somewhere. It means thousands more people who don’t have to worry so much about buying their bread and milk in any given week. And if we don’t support the expansion of our infrastructure, in line with the expansion of our population and horizons, the opposite is true. We risk shrinking, for fear of growing pains.

Pope’s seminal poem ends on a telling note.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;

Thus unlamented let me die;

Steal from the world, and not a stone

Tell where I lie.

I fear we don’t have Pope’s luxury. We are seen, we must be heard, and we have to use the stones at our disposal to build on the foundations which we currently possess. To ignore this call makes us complicit in shrinking away from the challenges ahead. And so we must stay true to our national sentiment: to take off on strong foundations, and continue to reach greater heights.

Sean Spain is an Intern at the Bow Group