Will Heathrow expansion happen?

It’s supported by the Airport Commission via its latest report, by Heathrow itself and the City but opposed by the Mayor of London, Prime Minister and local residents. Will Heathrow get a third runway, and what’s the alternative to boost London’s oversubscribed air capacity?

When Howard Davies’ report on the preferred expansion to London’s airways was published on 30th June and pointed to the third runway at Heathrow as the logical answer, there was a mixed response. In the City business leaders rallied for a commitment to an expansion of Heathrow. The CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF all told the government to “get on with it” and start work by 2020.

The airport is, they decreed, London’s most important airport and as the existing primary international base for getting visitors in and out of the country it therefore makes sense that it should be the one expanded. Not expanding Heathrow, airport bosses said, costs the UK economy millions each year.

Yet Heathrow expansion isn’t as simple as that. The third runway is opposed by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson who predicted Davies’ report would “end up vertical” stashed away in a filing cabinet. The Prime Minister, who in 2010 had said there were “no ifs, no buts” he wouldn’t commit to an expansion of a third runway at Heathrow matched the opposition of local residents who complain about the environmental effect, noise and disturbance. Even committing to no night flights hasn’t allayed concerns about those living close to the airport.

So will the £18m expansion really happen? Business wills it, politicians appear opposed. Expansion is needed, somewhere in London. Access to high quality international air travel is vital for the capital’s business community. International links is one of the strongest and most attractive factors London has to offer. With the new gateway in Dubai International Airport, the gaps in London’s offer become clear. London’s airports are full to bursting with millions travelling through annually. Having ruled out a new hub airport for the capital, the focus turns to existing infrastructure which can be boosted.

Expansion is not about Heathrow, or Gatwick. It is about continuing to enable London to be an international gateway, encouraging its powerful economy and ability to attract international investment. Without the option of a new airport for international travel one of the existing airports must be improved.

Heathrow’s third runway is still not certain. It still requires around £16bn in private investment as well as the ability to win over support from the government who are not required to make a decision until the autumn. As a company that has spent a generation watching London’s business community grow and continue to attract international business Clarendon recognises that London’s air capacity issue needs to be solved. If a new airport cannot be built then investment needs to focus on either Heathrow or Gatwick. Despite the opposition the report believes Heathrow’s third runway is the most logical option, so a solution needs to be agreed and done quickly so that London doesn’t risk losing investment.



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