It has now been a month since the Airports Commission made a clear recommendation to give the green-light to a new runway at Heathrow, following three years of consulting and examining the evidence. I fully back that recommendation. But after years debating the issue, we now need the government to grasp the moment and address airport expansion with a real sense of urgency. In a nutshell, it’s time to get on with it.
Expansion is getting more urgent by the day. Heathrow, Britain’s only international hub, has been at full capacity for around 10 years and all of London’s other major airports are likely to be full by 2030. So when Parliament returns after the summer, it’s imperative the government provides a swift and positive response to the Airports Commission’s Final Report, as well as committing to an early parliamentary vote to take place as soon as possible.
There is far more at stake than where to put the few thousand meters of tarmac needed to build the South East’s first full-length runway since 1945. It’s about our country’s long-term prosperity and creating jobs for future generations. The Airports Commission has concluded that a new runway at Heathrow could generate up to £147bn in GDP and up to 77,000 new jobs. Equally importantly, by value, 40 per cent of our exports go by air. Indeed, by value, 26 per cent of our exports go via Heathrow alone. Recent CBI analysis suggests Britain could lose up to £31bn in trade by 2030 because of the failure to increase flights to Brazil, Russia, India and China alone.
All the time we delay a decision our competitors are marching forwards. Amsterdam already has six runways. Paris and Frankfurt each have four. Heathrow has just the two. The result? Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt each fly to more destinations in Brazil and China than Heathrow. Frankfurt has direct flights to five cities in Brazil compared to London’s two. Paris, meanwhile, has 50 per cent more flights to mainland China.
If the government’s long-term economic plan is to be delivered in an increasingly interconnected world, modernising our airports infrastructure and enabling investment to build a new runway has to now be part of it.
Those against Heathrow expansion will continue to argue that a third runway is politically undeliverable. But the Commission has also proposed a number of strong mitigation measures which I believe represent a new settlement for local residents. This includes banning all night flights from 11.30pm to 6am; a noise envelope that could ensure no increase in current noise levels; a £1bn community compensation fund; an independent aviation noise authority; and for the government to rule out a fourth runway altogether. In reaching a swift political resolution, I’d urge all stakeholders to carefully consider these thoughtful proposals.
There is also plenty we can be doing in the intervening decade before the new runway is built to make use of our existing London airports. This includes successful delivery of enhanced rail access to Gatwick, investing in improved rail links to Stansted, and giving the go-ahead to City Airport’s modernisation plans so it can make full use of its existing flight cap.
After decades putting off important decisions to modernise our airports infrastructure, politicians must put the long-term national interest over short-term political considerations. As for the new runway at Heathrow specifically, for goodness sake let’s now work together and get it built.