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The Heathrow debate takes off

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In what has been a turbulent few months, the debate on whether or not Heathrow Airport should have a third runway has hit an all-time high.

At the heart of this growing and continuously complex debate is a simple inevitability failure to deal with the capacity issue will mean the UK missing out on crucial trade links with major developing economies around the world.

This is not in dispute, what is though is which project should get the green light to meet the countrys needs.

Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an independent commission to investigate the options over capacity, but this may take some time.

I believe that expanding Heathrow is an absurd proposal. As Boris Johnson has stated in the past, Heathrow has always been a planning mistake. It started life in 1929 as a small airfield (Great West Aerodrome) on land southeast of the hamlet of Heathrow and continued to grow from then on into what we have today.

While the idea of a new airport in the Thames Estuary appeals to many (Boris in particular), in my opinion there are more viable and perhaps more shovel-ready projects that offer a less controversial alternative. For example, directing more international flights to one of Londons other airports such as Gatwick (currently operating at 78 per cent) or London City (56 per cent). Stansted Airport, located just 30 miles northeast of Heathrow, is another contender. A development here could utilise another great British project that is already under way. An extension to the Crossrail projects scope could see Stansted passengers transported to and from Heathrow and to central London in just 40 minutes. The Tory Reform Groups Steve Norris wrote in The Times recently that such a project could be delivered for 5bn.

Of course there are still negatives there will be with any project that gets the go ahead but surely 5bn is better than 40bn (the proposed budget for Boris Thames Hub). There simply isnt a decision that will please all stakeholders, but in any case, continued reluctance to push ahead with any of the proposed projects further risks our ability to compete against other European hub airports.

As always, when the decision is eventually made, it is you that will deliver the change and help to take Britain forward. For now we will have to play the waiting game.

We are keen to know your thoughts on the Heathrow debate. Please get in touch by emailing me, or by taking part in one of or online polls (on LinkedIn and Facebook).


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  1. Laura Taylor
    Laura Taylor 19 October 2012, 04:10 PM

    This conversation has really 'taken off' (excuse the pun) over in the APM Linkedin group - thanks to all for getting involved and opening up the debate!

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 12 October 2012, 08:02 AM

    There are two immutable facts: 1.  Everyone agrees there should be an increase in capacity.2.  No one wants the increase to be at a location near to them (except when they want to fly). Sydney is experiencing exactly the same issue and is probably more desperate for increased airport capacity than London and has just started another review.  Unfortunately, in the current age of twitter-democracy the failure to make a decision is actually in any current politicians best interest. If you make a decision, the people who dont like it can immediately start a major protest noise (if not movement) and will vote against you at the next election there is something tangible to hate.  But the people who approve of the decision on the basis there are likely to be benefits have nothing tangible to support for 5 to 10 years when the benefits start being realised. By actively talking and looking at the problem the politicians can be seen to be doing something positive and by never making a decision they avoid upsetting anyone.  As Sir Humphrey pointed out many years ago, the things you talk about a lot are the ones you have no intention of doing anything about. The ability for vested interests to fire off a noisy NIMBY protest movement in minutes is stifling planned development in most of the western world; it is only after the problem becomes worse than the solution (ie, after it is too late) does public opinion shift and the development processes play catch up usually at higher cost and for less effect than a more planned approach.  This is a key social issue for all of us. (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard)