It’s no secret that London Conservatives are deeply divided on Heathrow expansion. So far, I’m the party’s only mayoral candidate to support the Davies Commission’s recommendation that the airport should get a third runway. In fact, one of us would rather resign than see it happen. I was there when Jeffrey Archer “resigned” as the Tory mayoral candidate in 1999. It destroyed our chances and we lost the election.
I don’t love Heathrow. But now we’ve got this recommendation, the government needs to get on and act on it. We need to protect London’s position as a global city. We can’t afford to wait any longer in the name of Nimbyism.
Of course I’m disappointed that a Thames Estuary Airport didn’t even make it onto the shortlist. That would have demonstrated the level of ambition that London needs and deserves. It would also have delivered 340,000 new homes and revolutionised east London’s infrastructure in a way that it so desperately requires, including much-needed new river crossings.
The way London is forced to make decisions is absurd – if we were Manchester, we’d be allowed to weigh up the advantages in terms of housing, jobs, roads, river crossings and community benefits when deciding what to do about our over-stretched airports. In London, we have to put up with out-of-towners dumping projects on us that make financial sense in “silos”, but less sense as a city. This problem reoccurs in every area of governance. Unlike Manchester, London has no say over its NHS, for example, and the result is the same. When caring for the elderly, councils would rather the centrally-funded NHS paid for a £1,000 a night hospital bed than fork out a few quid a day extra for a bit of home-help. It’s madness.
Nevertheless, despite these reservations, Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK, is our only hub, and it is running at 98 per cent capacity. It has more long-haul and freight demand than Gatwick, and so the economic case was always going to be stronger. Heathrow will deliver £147bn of economic benefit over 60 years to Gatwick’s £89bn.
To put this all into perspective, 80 new airports (some with several runways) have appeared in China in recent years, Dubai doubled its airport capacity between 2005 and 2012, and Schiphol in Amsterdam is connecting to far more UK airports than Heathrow itself. London needs to take its future just as seriously or we will lose investment, startups and access to markets.
For residents, a ban on night flights, a noise level cap, and a fund to compensate and insulate those under the flight path are better than a poke in the eye. They simply weren’t in place when the Conservatives’ original “no ifs, no buts” promise on Heathrow expansion was made in 2009 – so it’s a win of sorts.
London needs to grow, whether it’s Crossrail 1 or 2, HS2, or extending tube lines south. We’re a global centre of innovation, arts, culture, finance, medicine and now tech. Unless we get on with expanding our airports too, we simply won’t be able to attract future talent, investment and growth, and we will be leapfrogged by competitors and relegated to the B-list of global cities. Let’s not clip London’s wings just as its nose is rising.