Ken Livingstone this week outlined some of his policies regarding west London, which include infrastructure improvements, and do not rule out expansion at Heathrow.
He was speaking at an event organised by West London Business and hosted by Westfield London where he said developing country economies would be key to London’s growth. He wants the capital to be able to access investment flows from them, and to grow trade with them. He said he would, if elected, reopen the London office in Shanghai closed by present Mayor Boris Johnson, and open others, in Brazil and elsewhere. Investing in better links with developing economies would be a large part of keeping London growing, he said.
He also said infrastucture investment would be essential, and that he would consider supporting expansion at Heathrow: “if you can prove London’s economy needs a third runway (at Heathrow), I’ll have to back it”.
He has recently said “Boris Island” – the proposed estuary airport – would severely harm the west London economy and bring about the probable closure of Heathrow, but even so he thought a third runway was unlikely. “No-one will overcome the institutional resistance to a third runway at Heathrow”, he said.
He acknowledged that without changes that enabled better direct links to developing economies from Heathrow that it would be difficult to see London maintain its leading position in the list of World Cities, and suggested that holiday and short haul routes could be moved to Stansted, where there is room for runway expansion, leaving Heathrow as a business airport focussed on long haul, and allowing better connections to China, India, Brazil and so on.
Without improvements in these links, a recent report has said London will be overtaken by Paris and other european cities, where links to those locations are already much better than Heathrow’s.
However, the idea of moving routes to Stansted may not be completely helpful. Part of Heathrow’s success has been allowing intercontinental passengers to switch to routes to european destinations. A substantial amount of the economic value of the airport comes from handling transfer passengers – which could be harmed by asking them to take two trains to Stansted.
His support of Crossrail 2 – the Chelsea to Hackney line – which he said should be extended to allow through travel from Guildford to Stansted Airport would help, but even so, Heathrow’s continued success would depend on its ability to provide a range of connections. As Nick O’Hara, Head of Government & Political Relations at BAA said: “We’re happy to see Mr Livingstone recognising Heathrow as a key component of London’s success, and are encouraged by the debate, which we’re keen to continue. Heathrow’s success is in providing the best facility for airlines to connect with the UK, Europe, and the rest of the World. Airlines choose the routes they serve in response to passenger demand. There is insufficient demand in the UK alone to serve many of the long-haul routes to emerging markets in China and Latin America – you only fill enough seats on those flights by adding transfer passengers from short-haul flight. Therefore, shifting those short-haul flights to another airport is counter-productive and will mean we won’t connect to those emerging markets, and will not benefit from the growth and jobs those connections would bring.”
Ken Livingstone also discussed housing, which he said was a critical area for London. He singled out the provision of affordable homes in locations close to where lower paid workers are employed as a key problem, but suggested he would not try to achieve this solely through planning requirements on private developments, but would seek to finance large scale investment in new social housing through attracting invesment from pension funds. This investment source could also help fund the infrastructure investments he is supporting, he said.