Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly and has been shortlisted to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.
All candidates for London Mayor are clearly and convincingly against the expansion of Heathrow. All of us recognise the unacceptable environmental and economic damage that would result from the development of a third runway. But it is not good enough to say what you are against, we also owe it to the public to say what we are for.
Demands on London’s airports are likely to increase from the current 140 million passenger journeys to 400 million by 2050. This increase can’t be met by the current runway capacity of London’s airports.
Boris’ view was that this shortfall should be met by the development of a new hub in the Thames estuary. Zac Goldsmith has stated that he disagrees and instead favours additions to existing airports with the possibility of them operating as a kind of virtual hub.
I think this is a fudge.
The hands off, laissez faire battle between incrementally expanding airports will be fought out over the skies of the heavily populated south with all the implications that has for traffic congestion, air pollution, noise and worsening transfer times between interconnections.
So why is having a hub important?
As Boris Johnson’s report “A new airport for London” explains:
“Hub airports generate the same kinds of benefit as other airports but in different ways. A hub airport multiplies the number of effective routes available at all the airports they link. Since transit and connecting passengers add to demand, a greater number of destinations can be offered with the frequency of service needed by international business.”
The number of those linking airports has reduced from 18 airports 25 years ago to seven now and is likely to fall to four even with the addition of a runway at Heathrow proposed by the Davies commission. That pivotal role in the connectivity of the whole of the UK to international destinations is under threat and that is bad news for everyone, not just London.
As the numbers of passengers increase no high speed rail connection will prevent the increasingly poor interconnectivity they will experience. International operators won’t shift their business to other parts of the UK; The hubs in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are more likely to benefit.
For the South East to lose its centrality in air travel would be as painful as the loss of its docks.
Boris recognised the needed to break with decades of indecision and produce a bold and certain plan of action. That baton needs to be handed over to someone who will carry it, not kick it into the long grass for another four years.