So Sir Howard’s Commission has returned its recommendation. After two and a half years of deliberation, pie-in-the-sky proposals, costly marketing campaigns and self-centred political lobbying we have come to the conclusion that you simply can’t move a hub with deliverable expansion proposals. It is the worst recommendation, except for all the others.
The economic benefits for Heathrow expansion are obvious. Generating up to £147 billion for the economy over 60 years and 70,000 new jobs by 2050 it separates the men from the boys, with Gatwick simply unable to deliver on connections to destinations in growth economies (which sort of defeats the object). That’s not to say a second runway at Gatwick is off the agenda, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.
If anything, the Sussex airport was an inconvenience in delivering a common sense judgement. It hasn’t, nor ever will have ‘hub’ capabilities. This isn’t a debate about shipping as many tourists as possible into London or providing the city’s population with more routes to the Algarve. It is about connecting growth destinations with the UK and the rest of Europe. Getting off one plane and getting on to another. Not traversing 40 miles to Heathrow in some fairy-tale underground train to catch a connection to Schiphol (37 per cent, or 26 million people, currently transfer at Heathrow).
The only real alternative that would fulfil this key requirement is building a new airport, a plan the Boris Johnson was an advocate of. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the Major of London repeated his view that an airport in the Thames estuary was the best solution, saying a new runway at Heathrow is “not going to happen” despite the Airports Commission’s recommendation.
But as we pointed out last year, his ambitious plans for relocating the airport and creating a ‘Borough of Heathrow’ housing development to fill the empty city-scape left in its place don’t reflect rational thinking on the Mayor’s part but rather a man that is hell bent on creating a legacy. It was simply undeliverable. Along with extortionate costs the Mayor overlooked the fact that Europe’s biggest LNG importation terminal and the largest above-ground storage tanks of their kind in the world are positioned on the proposed site.
Then there’s the sticky issue that airplanes simply wouldn’t be able to access the airport. Boris Island would fall under flight paths of four of London’s five airports as well as the congested route into Schiphol. A freedom of information request submitted by The London Economic found the Mayor spent £3.2 million developing these fundamentally flawed plans.
So it is with a sigh of relief that the Airport’s Commission returned what was the only logical solution on the table. Environmentally it is flawed and it will undoubtedly impact residents in West London, but both these issues are less ‘runway’ problems than aviation predicaments. It is also costly, but such significant infrastructural projects will barely touch the public purse and the ROI will be significant.
It is the best of a bad bunch, but the UK’s economic future cannot be kept waiting on the tarmac any longer.