A Heathrow director has likened the airport’s £14bn expansion plan to Tottenham Hotspur’s new football stadium, which ran massively over budget.
Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow’s executive director for expansion, said major infrastructure projects were “very challenging to deliver” and that details were “pinned down” far too early in the process.
Heathrow has insisted it is able to deliver an expanded airport for £14bn, but its biggest customer, International Airlines Group (IAG), has questioned that figure.
Last month the British Airways owner said it had “absolutely no confidence in Heathrow’s ability to deliver cost-effective expansion”.
Speaking at the London Infrastructure summit today, which was held in Tottenham’s new £850m stadium, Gilthorpe said: “We’re sitting in this fantastic piece of infrastructure today that took many years to deliver, and I think I’m right in saying it wasn’t quite on time and on budget – and that’s no criticism to Spurs or to the people that delivered it.
“It’s very hard to get these things right when you’re asked to pin them down seven years before you’ve even put a spade in the ground.”
IAG estimates that the total cost of an expanded Heathrow – when taking into account not just the third runway, but a new terminal and aircraft stand capacity – is actually £32bn.
When asked by City A.M. why IAG doubted the accuracy of the £14bn figure, Gilthorpe replied: “IAG quite rightly want to hold us to account on our cost base because they will have to pay on behalf of passengers for that, but I think the prize of that competition and choice to passengers is huge.
“I’m happy to be held to account, but what I would urge is that people don’t try to pin down major infrastructure projects prematurely.
“I believe we can deliver a runway for £14bn on today’s prices.”
A spokesperson for IAG said: “We appreciate the openness and candour but this is a clear admission that Heathrow has no idea how much expansion will cost. We have no confidence in the airport’s ability to deliver cost-effective infrastructure.”
Earlier this month it was announced that another of Britain’s largest infrastructure projects – High Speed Two – had also seen its costs go up from £56bn in 2015 to £88bn based on today’s prices.
The railway, which will link London to the north in stages, is also running several years behind schedule. The first phase between London and Birmingham was set to open in 2026 but is now likely to open between two and five years behind schedule, while the second phase from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds could open as late as 2040 instead of 2033.