For and Against - A new London airport


A new airport to the east of London is the best option for proper expansion
Daniel Moylan

Profile: Daniel Moylan

Daniel Moylan has led the Mayor of London’s work on aviation for over two years, championing the case for constructing a new hub to serve London and the UK.

He has also served as deputy chairman for Transport for London, chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation and deputy leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council.


A new airport to the east of London is not the best option for proper expansion
Frank Wingate

Profile: Frank Wingate

Since 2004 Frank Wingate has been chief executive of West London Business, the Chamber of Commerce and Inward Investment Agency for West London. Wingate has a background in communications with management and entrepreneurial experience. He has also founded and developed his own public relations consultancy, Wingate PR, which specialised in investment, trade, IT and mobile technology.

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Britain needs at least a four-runway airport. That cannot be achieved through the redevelopment of the Heathrow site to the west of London. I support the construction of a new airport on a new site on the eastern side of the capital. Heathrow simply cannot accommodate the airport that the economy needs. It is the most noise-polluting airport in the world. Of all the people in Europe affected by noise in their homes above the 55dB LDEN (level day-evening-night), which is the measure used by the EU, 28 per cent live near Heathrow. Only 0.1 per cent live near Charles de Gaulle, and that is the measure of our planning failure. That 28 per cent adds up to 766,000 people, and the expansion of Heathrow could only mean that this number would become larger. That is not acceptable politically or in environmental terms.

The site itself presents a problem. It is significantly smaller than the land-take required to provide a modern well-functioning airport of the capacity needed. To take this piece of infrastructure and resculpt it in such a fashion that it could have four runways, while still operating the airport daily at 99 per cent capacity, would be a massive undertaking.

Then there is the question of surface access. For a major airport, Heathrow suffers from some of the worst access in the world. The rail links are basically the Piccadilly Line (itself in desperate need of an upgrade) and the Heathrow Express service. There are no rail links from the west or any other part of the country. Roads serving Heathrow on the M25/M4 shoulder are the most congested on the entire motorway network.

It’s really a hopeless case trying to argue that Heathrow could be the solution. But a new site to the east has some real advantages in terms of ease of construction, relatively unconstrained operation and opportunities for economic growth and development on the eastern side of the capital. Starting with a cleared site means that you can design it to be one of the great airports of the world. In terms of surface access it could connect into London with both high-speed links and the local links necessary to get staff to the airport from a wide surrounding area.

It could also be linked with the Channel Tunnel because of the proximity to HS1. This is important because it would not be just a passenger airport. We live in a global goods economy, and of the goods that are shipped around the world 1 per cent by weight and 25 per cent by value go by air. Being plugged into that global supply chain is crucial to Britain’s ambition to become an advanced manufacturing economy. An airport could also prompt the creation of a much more efficient and environmentally friendly freight distribution network in the UK and the near continent.

Mayor Boris Johnson looks at east London and sees that there has been growth and development, not least because of the Olympics. But he also sees how very much more there is to do. He sees high levels of unemployment, shockingly low levels of life expectancy and other indicators of deprivation. A new airport to the east of London could bring astonishing levels of investment, jobs, growth and opportunity for the people who live there. His view is that this could be achieved without any serious deleterious effects in west London, which is sufficiently vibrant that any of the interstices left as the airport moved east would quickly fill up.

Finally, there is still a role for Heathrow as a small airport, perhaps the equivalent of London City. It already has four tube stations and is connected to Paddington, which means the opportunities for developing the site as it became available through a reduction in capacity would generate significant economic returns and job opportunities for West London. I hate the phrase, but I think it is a ‘win-win scenario’ for the capital and an opportunity for Britain to step up to being the leading aviation country in Europe.

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West London Business (WLB), the Chamber of Commerce for West London, represents over 600 businesses in the area, including many of the major international blue chips. Following a survey undertaken to sound out members’ views and recent discussions with the Mayor’s spokesman for aviation, WLB is keen to submit its position on airport capacity and the Thames Estuary option.

First, WLB welcomes the Mayor’s public advocacy of the urgent need to increase airport capacity. The UK is losing competitive advantage in developing links with the emerging economies, particularly when exporting is accepted as pivotal to economic recovery. Figures demonstrate that the UK does 20 times more trade business with emerging markets where it has a direct daily connection than to those without such a connection.

At the same time, WLB strongly supports the need for a long-term national integrated transport strategy, which will give British business a supportive infrastructure. At present, government policy is marked by hesitancy and inaction. Nevertheless, WLB also has concerns about the Mayor’s current idea of solving the problem by building a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary. We believe all options, including a third runway at Heathrow, need to be objectively and fully assessed, without political bias.

Our doubts about the Thames Estuary option centre on the lack of robustness of the plan and the negative effect it would have on west London. It is evident that a new Thames Estuary hub airport would be extremely costly (£50bn plus?). Yet no financial plan has been proposed. Where would funding come from? The view of our members is that it would be an unnecessary and hugely expensive project, when we already have the infrastructure in place at Heathrow.

Neither has there been a proper assessment of the negative social and environmental cost of such a scheme. Whereas the noise, emissions and human costs of a third runway at Heathrow have been analysed in detail, no such study of the equally difficult challenges in the Thames Estuary has yet been conducted.

Another problem is the time frame. Given the planning and construction timetables it’s highly unlikely a new airport could be operational within 25 years. Given the pressing needs of the UK economy to meet the current demand for international travel, inaction over this period would be highly detrimental to recovery and growth. Meanwhile, we have an affordable (around £10bn), privately funded, ready-to-go plan for expansion at Heathrow, which could be completed within a few years.

Were an alternative hub airport to be built elsewhere, the effect on the west London economy would be little short of catastrophic. Lessons learnt from failed experiments with two hubs - in Canada and Japan - show that an economy the size of the UK’s is only able to support one hub airport, so an alternative would mean Heathrow closing, or seriously downsizing.

Heathrow is central to west London’s £37bn economy. Not only is it a major source of employment, it attracts inward investment and holds international business here. The airport itself employs 76,000 people, but provides immediate ancillary employment in the area for another 100,000, drawing total earnings in the region of £2bn. The majority of these jobs would disappear. Some 46 per cent of jobs at the airport are filled by people from the surrounding five boroughs. It is unrealistic to assume that all of these people would uproot their families and move to the Thames Estuary.

WLB believes that the lack of a credible financial plan, together with a lack of social and environmental cost analysis, and the negative impact on West London and the Thames Valley, renders the Thames Estuary alternative unrealistic and unnecessary.


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