In an editorial comment in the Evening Standard, the Mayor reiterated his opposition to expansion at Heathrow, saying a new estuary option, or expansion at Stansted, would be preferable as to expand Heathrow would be to “have recklessly exacerbated the Heathrow problem — which already causes a third of the aircraft noise pollution endured by the whole of Europe”.
He accused Heathrow of “treating the public like absolute idiots” in proposing expansion, saying: “Of all the miserable, useless, cynical examples of corporate short-termism and greed, this takes some beating”.
He contended that any expansion at Heathrow would take 15 to 18 years — “with a fair wind and favourable judges” to build, rather than the 8 years Heathrow suggested in their recent Davies Review submission.
In contrast to Heathrow’s report, the Mayor said it was “utter nonsense” to say that closing Heathrow would mean economic devastation in West London. He suggested that only 3% of the jobs in the sub-region are because of Heathrow. Given there are under a million employed in West London, and 76,000 on-airport workers alone, that seems a low estimate, although some of the jobs sustained by Heathrow are outside London in the Thames Valley where there are another 500,000 jobs. Even so, with figures for jobs dependent on the presence of the airport put at up to 250,000, the proportion would seem to be significantly higher than 3%, and the possibility of a regional economic collapse real.
Cllr Colin Ellar, deputy leader of Hounslow Council, said: “If Heathrow closed it would be devastating for Hounslow’s economy and the livelihood of thousands of residents and their families. Sixty four per cent of residents told us in our recent consultation, that they would not want to see a new hub airport if it meant the closure of Heathrow.”
However, this does not mean Hounslow Council back expansion. Cllr Ellar continued: “Equally an overwhelming majority (of Hounslow residents) do not want to see it expanded, our residents and the council have said loud and clear that we want a better – not a bigger Heathrow.”
The Mayor of London suggested in his Evening Standard piece that the solution would be to convert the Heathrow site into homes – to combat the “crippling housing shortage in London”. The airport site would accommodate a “whole beautiful new borough”. It is an area the size of RB Kensington & Chelsea, with, in the Mayor’s view, the potential for “tens of thousands of homes, hi-tech industry, university campuses and, if need be, a vestigial airport”.
Many commentators suggest the number of people who would want to live or locate their business in West London if the main airport were over an hour away on Crossrail and two hours drive round the M25, might be less than do so now. With the UK’s hub airport at Stansted, parts of Lincolnshire would boast better international connections than Uxbridge, Slough, or Hounslow.
The Mayor makes the point that most of London’s rivals have a 24-hour, four-runway hub airport – and this would certainly be attractive to business. Madrid – the most likely place for BA to relocate to if there is no UK capacity expansion, it is reported – has four runways, Paris Charles de Gaulle six, and Frankfurt four. Amsterdam’s Schiphol has six already and space for a seventh. The pressure on London as a World City is obvious.
Boris cannot be faulted for ambition. His vision is clear. He says: “We need room to expand, and we will never find enough at Heathrow”.
“In the east we would finally have the space to do what is needed: create a logistics hub that links road, rail, sea and air — in which the new DP World deep-water port would be linked to the airport by the forthcoming Lower Thames Crossing, on which the Government has begun consultation”.
This new “aerotropolis” would create up to 500,000 jobs, says the Mayor. Given that it would be more than twice the size of Heathrow, this is a reasonable estimate.
Putting a new airport in the estuary is hugely ambitious. It would be costly – figures of up to £80bn have been given for the airport and all the necessary connecting infrastructure.
The cost for West London could be greater. The Mayor’s assessment of the potential impact on jobs – at 3% – seems like it could be an underestimate, and the hope that companies would stay in, or choose to locate in a region suddenly further away from a decent international airport than Peterborough potentially a forlorn one. West London could find itself in the situation London’s Docklands did after the loss of the shipping business to Rotterdam.
Canary Wharf and surroundings now generate wealth and prosperity, but this has taken decades and billions of pounds, and there is still massive deprivation in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Barking – the areas once made relatively prosperous by the docks.
The Mayor says his estuary project would “involve some dislocation”, and he is right. His contention that it would require “immense political drive and leadership” could be applied to any solution to the undoubted aviation capacity crisis.
Frank Wingate, CEO of West London Business, was unimpressed by the Mayor’s words, saying: “The Mayor’s rant against expanding Heathrow in today’s Evening Standard has all the hallmarks of the desperation of someone losing the argument. It’s vital to remember that the economy to the west of London (including the Thames Valley worth £70 billion) is one of the most productive and dynamic zones in Europe. While other cities around the world are trying to duplicate west London’s success, our Mayor is proposing to undermine it – by closing the hub airport at its heart.”
“People need to wake up to what this would mean for Londoners before it’s too late. The Mayor admits that building a new hub airport would mean closing Heathrow. That would mean more than 100,000 people facing re-location or redundancy. Unemployment could double in local boroughs. Businesses would stop investment. Vague promises from the Mayor about replacing Heathrow with new “homes, hi-tech industry and university campuses” are hardly convincing. It would take decades and massive investment to redevelop the site. What does the Mayor propose the tens of thousands of local people who would be made redundant do in the meantime? How does he suggest we persuade the international corporate giants near Heathrow to stay put instead of relocating to Paris or Frankfurt? Building on the strength we already have at Heathrow will connect the UK to growth more quickly and at lower cost. Starting from scratch will cost the taxpayer dearly and take longer. Growth won’t wait. The global race won’t wait. Businesses won’t wait. The answer for London, and the UK, must be Heathrow.”
John Dickie, Director of Strategy and Policy at London First, said: “The Mayor rightly points out the difficulties of expanding Heathrow. But he makes no mention of the enormous economic, social and environmental challenges of building an entirely new airport in the Thames Estuary. All options for new runways are difficult; that’s why we haven’t built any full-length ones in the South East since the second world war. The Government has set up an independent commission, under Howard Davies, to assess the pros and cons of all potential options. Let’s allow the commission to present its findings before prejudging it. London needs a plan – not polemic.”
Business, as London First CEO Baroness Jo Valentine regularly says, wants a solution. With luck, our leaders will find the drive and leadership to choose one.