Heathrow closure “opportunity”

The Leader of Hillingdon Council has once again described the potential closure of Heathrow as an opportunity.

Hillingdon Council have previously been supportive of the airport as a major employer, but opposed to its expansion, any increase in the number of flights, or extension of nigh-time operating hours.

Recently, with Heathrow Airport itself suggesting that there would be no room for Heathrow if a new hub airport were built elsewhere, the council leader has shifted to welcoming the possibility of the closure of the airport.

Now he has described the potential closure as an opportunity. Writing in the Uxbridge Gazette, Ray Puddifoot, said: “The future of Heathrow Airport will depend on the commercial need for an airport on that site in 20 years’ time – if there is a need, they will continue; if not they will take the land value. This would provide an opportunity for employment, housing and community infrastructure with a far less damaging effect on our residents and our environment.”

Some, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, believe that if Heathrow closed the site could be redeveloped to provide new homes and employment space which would both help solve London’s housing crisis, and replace the jobs that would be lost if the airport moved. Others think that a West London without Heathrow would be an economic desert that no company would want to base themselves in, and a place few people would want to move to, as there would not be enough jobs for the current population.

76,000 people are employed on airport. According to Heathrow, a further 40,000 depend on its presence (off-airport jobs such as in the aeroplane maintenance sector). West London Business suggest that 175,000 jobs in total depend on the airport. This is one in five of the jobs in the sub-region. Certainly, if these were all lost at once, it would produce an economic crisis it would take decades to recover from.

SEGRO – the largest industrial property owner in the sub-region – recently conducted a survey of its tenants which said half would move with the airport if it went to the estuary or elsewhere. This too would be an economic disaster, and would shake the fundamentals of the regional property market.

Hillingdon’s leader says that the companies that supply the airport would deal with the new airport. This will probably be true, but they might do it from a different place, with different employees.

West London is strong in a number of sectors – aviation being one – but others like biopharma, logistics, and creative industries all depend on good international connections. There are also a large number of national, European, or global headquarters buildings for multi-nationals in the sub-region. To suppose that these would stay if the nearest international airport were an hour away at the other end of Crossrail could be naïve.

If the airport closed, it would be the largest single loss of jobs in the UK, several times larger than the Longbridge redundancies last century. Cllr Puddifoot’s assertion that “there will not be mass redundancies overnight” might not prove correct.

Gatwick Airport has recently submitted plans for expansion which have the full support of its local planning authority. Councils around Stansted, while not in favour of extra runways there, would happily see the number of flights double. They all believe that a successful airport brings a powerful economic uplift. It is curious that the planning authority for one of the world’s leading airports thinks otherwise.

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