Thursday 2 July 2015 10:03 am

Airports Commission report: Heathrow runway expansion by 2025 will be too little, too late for London’s tech sector

It cannot be denied that the announcement of Heathrow’s runway expansion is a step in the right direction for the capital’s business community.
According to Andrew Macmillan, operations director at Heathrow Airport, direct air connections between airports lead to a twentyfold increase in trade between destinations. 
Equally for Declan Collier, chief executive of London City Airport, the crucial component of international business success lies in the physical ability to access overseas markets, even with the technology available that has the potential to decrease this need.
More exports combined with better client relationships can only improve the UK’s business landscape.
Yet, unfortunately, it will be at least a decade before London and its businesses can enjoy the benefits of the Heathrow’s additional runway capacity. 
Furthermore, this lag may put our fast-growing digital sector at risk by jeopardising our pipeline of highly skilled talent. Just over three quarters of digital companies say they benefit from access to a network of entrepreneurs to interact with and to share ideas. The tech industry contributed £91.1bn to the UK economy in 2014. This amounts to 5.3 per cent of the UK’s total GDP in 2014. 
But by 2020 experts predict there will be a shortage of 300,000 digital experts. The UK simply does not have the talent readily available, so we need to be doing everything in our power to make travel as easy as possible. A critical part of this will be to crack on with runway construction.
Worryingly, speculation around the estimated time of runway completion has already been raised. London City Airport’s Declan Collier believes that this projection is too optimistic by at least three years, and possibly five. Therefore, as well as ensuring Heathrow’s runway is built as quickly as possible we also need to source sustainable alternatives.
Collier suggests that to accommodate for this smaller airports like his own, Luton and Standsted must be supported in more modest expansions that can fill the void in the meantime.
It has become increasingly clear that a fundamental challenge facing tech companies in London is infrastructure. The tech sector has grown so fast that the provision of transport has to play catch up.
As a capital city at the forefront of the global digital game, to ensure the future of our thriving tech economy we need to show dedication and perseverance towards the construction of additional runways. More runways sends a message to the global tech community that London means business so we need to act on these proposals now.