The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, used a speech to the CBI Annual Conference to launch an attack on “toxic” plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, saying that building a new hub in the Thames Estuary would create almost 400,000 jobs, although recent reports suggest this could be matched by job losses in West London.
Mr Johnson took the opportunity to criticise plans to expand capacity at Heathrow, which he said would extend noise pollution into whole new areas of London. “It is politically completely undeliverable,” he said.
“What you cannot say in a 21st century democracy where we rely on improving quality of living that in the name of business efficiency that you can experience unacceptable levels of noise pollution in areas that haven’t so far had it, at far greater volume and for longer periods of the day.”
Mr Johnson urged the Government to rule out plans for a third runway, cap the number of flights at Heathrow at their current level and instead embark on plans to build a new hub airport. “The third runway is toxic. It is not going to happen,” he said. “The tragedy is that our hub airport is in the wrong place.”
He said his office estimated the new airport would create 375,000 jobs of which 138,000 would be in the corridor between the airport and central London, while the vacant Heathrow site could provide homes for 180,000 people and 40,000 new jobs in high tech industries. Indeed the Mayor told ITV that closing Heathrow “would bring massive economic growth to the area (West London)”.
Critics of this position suggest that job losses in west London and the Thames Valley could be comparable to the number Boris believes would be created by a new airport in the Estuary, and ask who would choose to live on the site of Heathrow if as a result it is surrounded by unemployment and deprivation, or occupy business space there if the UK’s hub airport is as far away from them as it is from Peterborough.
A recent report from SEGRO suggested that up to half of their tenants might leave the region if Heathrow were to close, which would cause a significant reduction in employment, and require a large number of new occupiers just to fill existing space before taking up any new space on the site of Heathrow. Indeed, their largest concern is not that businesses would move to be near a new UK hub, but that, if a decision to close Heathrow were taken, they would move now to a location which already has a four-to-six runway hub airport – such as Amsterdam or Frankfurt.
CBI chief policy director Katja Hall appealed for reason, saying: “It’s great to hear some blue sky thinking on aviation but it’s time to touch down – what we need now is for all politicians to commit to the outcome of the Davies Commission before the next election.”
A Heathrow spokesperson commented: “The Mayor’s claim in his speech to the CBI Conference that the public funding requirement for a third runway at Heathrow is the same as that for a new airport in the Thames Estuary is not supported by his own evidence. The Mayor’s submission to the Airports Commission estimates the upfront public cost of a Thames Estuary airport at £96bn. The public funding for a third runway is estimated at around £5bn.”