Boris launches Heathrow redevelopment scenarios

Boris JohnsonThe Mayor of London has launched a report showing redevelopment options for the site of Heathrow Airport.

Boris Johnson launched the report at Hillingdon Civic Centre at joint briefing with Cllr Ray Puddifoot, leader of Hillingdon Council, who spoke about their similar report – “Heathrow Park: A better future for Heathrow”.

The Mayor said he wants his report “to kickstart an open, honest and evidence based debate on the potential of the Heathrow site to provide homes and jobs, in the face of the immense challenge posed by an increase in population for the capital, which is forecast to be equivalent to adding the population of Glasgow and Birmingham combined by 2030.”

Hillingdon advances “Heathrow Park”

Hillingdon’s suggestion – for a ‘garden city’ on the site, with a possible residual airport – is similar to one of the Mayor’s scenarios.

Without an airport, it would be home to almost 100,000 people, with 66,000 jobs on site. With a vestigial airport left in, it would house less – 67,000 – but accommodate 72,000 workers, almost as many as the current airport. It is not clear exactly which sectors the employers would be involved in from the report.

Cllr Puddifoot and the Mayor agreed that Heathrow’s exceptional transport connections – underground, rail and road – and its scale at 1200ha, make it “one of the most astonishing redevelopment opportunities in Europe”, as the Mayor put it.

He continued: “Transport was the reason we couldn’t do Battersea for so long”, a problem he did not see troubling a redevelopment of Heathrow.

Mayoral Scenarios

The Mayor’s report contains four scenarios:

  • A New Town – similar to Hillingdon’s Heathrow Park – providing 48,000 homes for 112,000 people and 76,000 jobs on the site.
  • A new residential quarter on the scale of Hammersmith & Fulham with 82,000 homes, a population of around 200,000, and 54,000 jobs.
  • A new education and technology quarter based around two new large campus universities supporting 100,000 jobs, providing 30,000 homes and 10,000 student housing units.
  • Heathrow City – a combination scenario which also retains some of the existing airport buildings for retail, town centre, and convention centre use. It would have a focus on education and research with the 90,000 jobs produced focussed on innovation and the knowledge economy. It would provide 80,000 homes.

The options, says the report, would produce between £3.9bn and £7.8bn extra a year for the UK economy.

The Mayor said his scenarios all offered help to London’s two key issues – housing and international connectivity. He maintains that an expanded Heathrow is politically undeliverable, so the only way to achieve the direct international connections London needs, with China and other emerging economies, is to build a new hub airport. Using the site to provide homes and jobs for the growing population is therefore a desirable outcome.

Unlike Hillingdon’s Heathrow Park report, the Mayor’s report gives an overview of the sectors that the jobs would come from for each of the scenarios. The first – the education centred one – has an ambitious profile with the same number of professional scientific, technical and real estate jobs as Cambridge, and nearly as many jobs in education. Indeed, this scenario looks somewhat like building a new Cambridge in the Thames Valley.

Professional scientific, technical and real estate jobs are the largest chunk in three of four scenarios, with the exception being the Residential Quarter, where employment is more related to servicing residents, with health and education being the main sectors.

Retail jobs are an important component, with Heathrow City expected to generate over 10,000 jobs in the sector – more than Westfield London.

This is the most detail yet presented about what the business landscape would look like post-Heathrow Airport. When asked about the work done, Daniel Moylan, also present at the launch, said he felt there would be no difficulty in filling the office space proposed.

The Mayoral team are clear that they believe the area would remain attractive to employers as a location despite the loss of the airport. Other reports have not been so clear on this – one recently suggested job losses would approach 250,000, considerably more than the largest positive number in the Mayor’s new scenarios.

Some in the business community are sceptical about the numbers anyway. Frank Wingate, Chief Executive of West London Business, said the plans for redeveloping a closed Heathrow offered by the Mayor and Hillingdon Council did not stack up.

“They are merely plucking figures for employment out of thin air. What we do know from applied independent research is that over 200,000 jobs in West London and Thames Valley areas, never mind at Heathrow itself, will be put at risk if Heathrow closes. Why jeopardise one of the UK’s proven prime transport and employment sites, and the economies that thrive on it, for a theoretical development based purely on wishful thinking?”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The Mayor of London is proposing to spend billions of pounds of public money to forcibly buy and then close Heathrow, immediately putting 114,000 people out of work. He would do this to build an expensive new hub airport at a further cost of £112bn to the taxpayer.

“The economic impacts of this at both a national and regional level would be devastating.”

Certainly there is considerable threat to the West London economy from the potential closure of Heathrow, but since the decision to expand or close it will ultimately be a national, political one, it is crucial that there is a plan either way for growing prosperity.

Daniel Moylan said there would be 12 to 15 years from a decision to close Heathrow Airport before it actually happened. This would give time to plan both moving the aviation hub, and replacing it with something productive and desirable.

Asked about how the strategy could be realised, the Mayor made a clear commitment to a Mayoral Development Corporation, as used in Stratford, and proposed at Old Oak. The idea that Heathrow Airport would in fact become a partner in that, presumably contributing their land and expertise in exchange for at least a stake in, and operational control of, an Estuary Airport, was raised, although it was made clear that no real discussions had been held. Certainly this would be an obvious way to mitigate the effect on a significant privately owned company and its asset base.

Should it be decided Heathrow is to close, then one might assume there would be other companies with assets in the Heathrow area interested in joining in a similar way. That would be desirable, as without the same sort of shared vision, clear common direction and ultimate dividend achieved on the Olympic site, presently being seen in White City, and hopefully to emerge at Old Oak, squabbling and conflict between stakeholders would make a “docklands” scenario (where, following the collapse of the docks, the area became derelict) more likely for Heathrow, followed by a couple of decades of dereliction and deprivation. Nobody wants that.

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