In the start of a series we have invited the shortlisted Conservative candidates for Mayor of London to summarise their policies on key issues. Today it’s their views on Heathrow.
Heathrow is the option of the unambitious. It is unable to provide the fourth, fifth and sixth runways that an optimistic Britain needs for the future. To adopt the approach of just allowing other airports to expand ad-hoc, a runway at a time, will result in the south of England looking like a bad shave and cause the maximum environmental damage to a huge area of England. We have got to stop kicking this decision into the long grass expecting someone else to make it. Planning applications will be prepared to build an airport on the Isle of Grain. The GLA will work to a future without Heathrow Airport, always a poor use of land (Heathrow: 63 jobs per hectare, Docklands: 2,250 jobs per hectare) , and one which can provide a new district for London with 55,000 home and thousands of new jobs.
A new runway at Heathrow would subject up to one million Londoners to noise levels well beyond WHO guidelines; create an impossible air pollution problem for London; and cause gridlock on our roads as we cope with an additional 25 million road journeys. TfL believes Heathrow have underestimated the cost of dealing with these extra journeys to the airport by a staggering £15bn .
In addition to the human cost, the economic case for expansion is also unravelling. The Airports Commission has shown that any additional activity at an expanded Heathrow would be at the expense of competing airports. Expansion would merely centralise existing activity. Extraordinarily, the Commission also concedes that a 3rd runway would add just 12 international routes by 2050.
There is a clear alternative to Heathrow expansion – maximising competition between the three main London airports – Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick, not least by investing in surface transport links to and between them. I cannot see any advantage in cobbling together the old monopoly – not when we’ve already seen the positive effects of competition at London’s other airports.
With transfer traffic across Europe declining because of changing technology and the rise of low cost carriers, and with point-to-point trips increasing, the case for a mega-hub is shrinking, and the case for a connected London is growing.
In the 1960s and 1970s London lost its lead in shipping to European ports which had rapidly adopted new technologies. We are in danger of repeating this mistake again with air transport in the 21st century. In order to remain a ‘world city’ and one of the centres of the global transport system, London needs a hub airport with multiple runways and capable of operating day and night. Heathrow can never be that hub and as Mayor I will fight tooth and nail any proposals to expand Heathrow in a piecemeal fashion, such as the ‘sticking plaster’ Davies Commission proposal, or to relax the night time exclusion of flights or to allow any degradation of the environment which would come from such expansion.
Gatwick and Stansted, stuck as they are at the end of spokes out of the city, are also not viable as a future hub airport. There is only one logical location and that is in the eastern estuary area of London. Rather than a big bang, my plan would be to develop a new airport gradually but with full allowance for future growth to full hub status including the necessary transport links. This would allow Heathrow, and all the jobs attached to it, to change over time as resources and capacity were realigned in a manner which is both practicable and deliverable. It may even be possible to integrate a new estuary airport in the future plans for improved flood defences which will be required over the coming decades.
Building a third runway is a “sticking plaster” short term solution. Let’s not forget that when Terminal 4 was built, Heathrow assured the public that there would be no more expansion then along came Terminal 5 and once again we were told there would be no more expansion. In the same if a third runway is built, how long before there is demand for the fourth, fifth or sixth runways, despite the Davis Report ruling out a fourth runway. Also, how will a new runway overcome concerns over air and noise pollution that have been cited?
London needs to be ambitious because we are falling behind the rest of the world. Business wants aviation, Londoners deserve to treat their families to holidays and visit friends and relatives around the world. Flying should not once again become the preserve of the rich. Just as airlines need to introduce more environmentally friendly aircraft for the future, we need to provide an airport for the future too. Ideally in the Thames Estuary where the prevailing wind would mean flights coming in over the water, not over central London.
However, we need to ask private investors to come forward with proposals and consider each one rather than relying on proposals from Whitehall.
A new airport can be built with private finance and ensure that London remains a world class aviation hub for decades to come.