Victoria Borwick is a London-wide member of the London Assembly and a councillor in Kensington and Chelsea she is the Conservative Member of the GLA Transport Committee and Conservative Aviation Spokesman.
Tony Travers of the London School of Economics was spot on when he said in the Times on 2nd November, that unless Britain invests in major airport infrastructure such as Lord Foster's Isle of Grain proposal or the Mayor of London's Estuary Airport, the country will face decline. The Government has yet to show it understands what is needed on aviation policy.
Heathrow runs at 98% capacity, with jets circulating for an accumulative 55 hours every day over London. It is estimated that the British economy is loosing £1.2 billion a year to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt because our own airports in the South East are unable to compete with increases in capacity taking place at other European hubs. Business argue that the UK risks losing trade deals with emerging economies such as China if we do not do something about air capacity.
Unfortunately we have put off a serious discussion about the inadequacies of our present airport provision for too long. We should have been confronting these strategic decisions years ago. Even radical solutions such as Boris Johnson’s Estuary Airport under present planning and legal regimes, could not be delivered in time to stop the slide against our competitors. “Boris Island”, a planned multi runway airport that would sit in the Thames Estuary would take 25 years to deliver and cost £50 billion to construct. Lord Foster's Isle of Grain has a similar price tag and time frame.
We need a solution that will at least help increase capacity in the medium term, so as to give us the breathing space to agree and enact a longer term answer, whether that be growing Gatwick or a completely new airport. Alternatives have been suggested: RAF Manston already has a long runway, and with a high speed rail link to the Eurostar, would have adequate accessibility.
Other possibilities include Cliffe in Kent, and closer to Heathrow is Northolt, but that would require a re-alignment of the runway. I have recently promoted the idea of creating a "Heathwick" virtual hub connecting Gatwick and Heathrow as one airport, with Heathrow becoming the long haul focus and Gatwick the feeder airport. Budget short haul operators could then be moved out to Stansted which currently runs under capacity. Heathrow and Gatwick would then operate as one airport, with one as a terminal of the other, with a high speed “airside” rail link. This would avoid duplicate flights from say Rome to LHR and Rome to LGW which would mean spare capacity for other slots. Travelling is judged by time rather than just by distance, so operating Heathrow and Gatwick airports as “London Main” with fast shuttles between the two would radically open up alternative ways of operating and would mean that even in those notorious days when Heathrow is affected by fog, London would still have an operating airport.
The Government needs to do one of two things. It should either give the green light to building a virtual hub between Gatwick and Heathrow with the longer term view to including more runway capacity at this airport, or it must clear away the usual obstacles of planning and judicial reviews by promoting a bold proposal such as Lord Foster's or Boris Johnson's that will put the UK firmly in the lead as the central hub for Europe. To do nothing, or to quibble about better use of present runways would commit Britain to almost certain economic decline.