Delegates at Place West London’s 2015 Heathrow event heard from a range of speakers about the economic benefits of expanding the airport, and the dangers of not doing so, and losing out in an increasingly global fight for prosperity.
Nigel Milton, External Affairs Director of Heathrow Airport kicked off the event by emphasising the differences between Heathrow’s current expansion proposals and all previous plans. This, he said, had come about because of a significantly heightened level of engagement with both business and local communities.
His key point was that the aviation capacity debate was not about Heathrow vs Gatwick, or any other UK airport, but about the UK vs Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, and the rest. Indeed he said Heathrow in fact support the expansion of Gatwick – just not without the expansion of Heathrow.
However, when compared to expanding Gatwick, he said that Heathrow would create more jobs, deliver better economic benefits, and help the UK export more freight – Heathrow already handles over a quarter of UK exports by value.
30 new airlines have asked to use Heathrow, and are on a waiting list. Easyjet, one of those, has already announced what they would run from Heathrow, including dozens of new routes, some of them domestic.
Contrary to reports, Milton also suggested that expansion at Heathrow was popular with Londoners, as well as with business. Over 100,000 individuals have signed a petition to allow the airport to expand.
He summed up Heathrow’s proposals as “Quieter, Bigger and better”.
The debate turned to what might happen if Sir Howard Davies recommends expansion at Heathrow. It would of course be just a recommendation. The 2015 Conservative manifesto did not rule out new runways as the 2010 one did, so the Government is able to agree with Sir Howard and implement his recommendation. However, there will be a lot of noise after his report is published, and the business voice will need to be heard during that time to show the level of support Heathrow has.
Kevin Harman, of Heathrow Hub, agreed “with absolutely everything Nigel said”. He added “It has to be Heathrow by any measure”.
He concentrated mainly on the surface transport benefits of the Heathrow Hub scheme, primarily on the new Hub rail station on the West Coast mainline at Iver Heath and the new connections that would offer.
This would be “a new extra front door for Heathrow”. Passengers would arrive by train, and then go to the airport on a high speed transit. It could feature as part of any expansion at Heathrow, not only if the extended runway solution were recommended.
The key features of the scheme – with the improved rail connections – would mean that Heathrow’s passengers could move to 55% arriving by public transport. Also, the 10,000 parking spaces by the Hub station would divert traffic away from the airport itself, easing congestion.
It is the rail access plans which are the most attractive feature of the proposals. The Hub station would provide better access to Crossrail, enhance the Western Rail Access to Heathrow plan (WRAtH) which links to the Waterloo line at Staines, and give better connections to the Southern Access, the Piccadilly Line, and HS2 – although the Hub team would prefer a direct link to this rather than connecting at Old Oak via Crossrail.
The proposals would bring average passenger access time (home to check in) to 69 mins. Gatwick is at 130 minutes. It would expand the 120min access window massively (see right).
It was clear for the discussion that there are elements of the two competing proposals that could come together. There are many similarities already, and Nigel Milton said that the Iver Hub could work with a new North West runway, but that the extended northern runway and a new North West runway were too close together to work.
Alison Yard, Joint Venture Director at SEGRO, significant landowners around Heathrow, said they believe business backs Heathrow. In their recent survey, 96% of SEGRO tenants backed Heathrow expansion, so SEGRO supports Heathrow. Like Milton, she saw no problem with expanding Gatwick as well.
She had some “asks”. SEGRO want to see a modern cargo specific facility, like Schiphol’s. They also want to end the indecision, asking Government to follow the recommendations made by the Airports Commission.
The debate moved on to skills, and to an interesting new model. Bryan Berry, Principal of the new Heathrow UTC, one of 30 opened nationally to date, talked about how they take students at age 14, and give them a different way of learing, a mix of academic work and hands-on experience – such as building their own plane. This is a new and different way of delivering skilled employees.
The Heathrow UTC has been successful, it opened last September, and moved in to new building this January. Not all UTC’s have been so successful – the Hackney one, focussed on digial skills and based around Silicon Roundabout in Old Street, closed due to a lack of students.
It may that Heathrow has been successful because of its airport links. Student who take the risk of leaving their secondary school at age 14 to specialise in a technical discipline take tha decision seriously, and want to see a career path. Clearly the Heathrow UTC shows this more clearly than the Hackney one did.
They are continually looking for new employers to engage with though – to build on their success helping students to engage in their passion, be given relevant experience, and to help get them to their career destination.
Ruth Bagley, CEO of Slough Council made it clear that they were explicitly supportive of Heathrow expansion. The council’s position was derived from surveys and consultation with residents and employers – where they found strong support – public opinion in Slough is behind Heathrow expansion.
She was clear that they would seek benefits and mitigation through partnership working, and that they preferred Heathrow’s own North West runway proposal, primarily because it included a six-minute link from Slough station to T5. The Heathrow Hub proposal did not.
She was clear about the benefits of being strongly linked to Heathrow. Slough is already the third most economically productive town per capita in the UK. It has just acquired its second Chinese European HQ. “Heathrow’s status as an international hub key is crucial to this success continuing”, she said..
The council’s own economic impact study suggests that the closure of Heathrow – an option promoted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Hillingdon Council, would produce 30% unemployment in Slough. “Having worked in Wales, I know what that looks like, and never want to see it again”, she said.
She was also clear that not expanding Heathrow, or expanding Gatwick instead would lead to a slow decline for Slough.
Echoing Milton’s opening comments, she said: “We need to recognise that the choice for employers is not between Slough or Reading, but between Slough and Singapore, Amsterdam, or elsewhere”.
She too had “asks” – the western rail access to Heathrow should happen before the airport expands. A six-minute service from Slough Station to T5 would take 5% of traffic off the local road network, thinks the council.
They want mitigation against business rate and council tax revenue falls, and, like SEGRO, they want a clear, quick decision. Anything else risks businesses slowly leaching away from Slough through uncertainty.
Rachel Best, Transportation Planning Manager from Brent Council said she saw a numner of opportunities for Brent in Heathrow expansion. They are not opposed, and indeed have a preference for expanding at Heathrow via the airports North West runway option.
Brent recognise the importance of Heathrow to Park Royal. Many of the businesses there are import/export related, or directly involved in aviation. She bemoaned the connectivity from Brent to Heathrow. “It’s appalling – it takes over an hour” she said. Brent would be seeking support for a West Coast Mainline link extension. She too felt this would be better than the Heathrow Hub option, as this would obstruct improvements of travel from Brent via the West Coast Mainline.
Freight was also important – again, an opinion influenced by thinking of Park Royal. Brent want to work with Heathrow on their freight handling plans. Perhaps Park Royal could help by resurrecting the consolidation centre plans floated by the old Park Royal Partnership? This could certainly take some traffic off the roads and ease congestion in Park Royal. Perhaps that could be extended to the Heathrow area road network?
The need for speed
Sadly, if expansion at Heathrow is recommended by the Airports Commission, and if the Government subsequently approves that recommendation and grants permission, there will still be ten years to opening, including five years until the Secretary of State grants planning approval.
It was suggested that RAF Northolt could offer expanded capacity on a temporary basis during that time. Nigel Milton said that Heathrow had decided they wanted to concentrate resources on the expansion project, should it be approved, but would happily work with any other operator who wanted to run commercial flights into the RAF site.
It seems a shame to force the economic benefits a decade away, given the amount of time and the level of consultation the UK has gone through on the issue. In that time Heathrow will fall further behind Dubai in the World Airports League, damaging our international position and risking our economy. Perhaps a pro-growth Government could find a way not to spend so long re-examining the same issues? One can only hope.