A wise man looks at all the facts. The pros, the cons. Weighs up all the arguments. Takes the emotion out of the debate and presents a clear view. Well, hallelujah! Sir Howard Davies’ Airport Commission has reported back that Heathrow is the preferred choice to provide additional aviation capacity by means of adding a third runway. Tell me something I didn’t know!
Factually this is a clear-cut argument. London is desperate for more aviation capacity. It has been bursting at the seams for years. This is why a significant number of flights – sure you’ve been on one – have to circle the city awaiting a landing slot at Heathrow because it is so congested that a couple of minutes delay means they miss their turn to land. In fact, it is so common an occurrence that you now don’t even get told it is happening on most flights; it is built into the flight time. This also mean more fuel being used, more pollution and more noise. So while the great political minds have dithered for almost a generation, we have suffered – as has the British economy. Because guess what: in the global race, global business travels and wants to do more of it.
But it’s not just about big business. I’m a child of the west London flight path. Growing up in Hounslow, where much of my family still live, we saw the benefits of airport jobs and the local economy that thrived off Heathrow. My father worked in cargo at the airport, then set up his own business based on the import and export of goods that come by air. Hundreds of thousands of people live in west London in order to be closer to their golden egg. And yes, they want expansion. Not the years of limbo that have meant a gradual decaying of a vital piece of national infrastructure or, god forbid, a wholesale plan to shut the airport that would decimate west London for decades.
All the infrastructure in place also makes Heathrow unbeatable in terms of transport connectivity. It has the Heathrow Express, the Piccadilly Line – which is due to be upgraded – the M4, M40 and M25 which provide links to both the East and North, and even Crossrail, which will have a spur tunnel specifically linking it to Heathrow. It’s almost a no brainer.
Almost, but not quite. I appreciate the political heat for some politicians, including my former boss the Mayor of London, when local residents – especially the good folk of Richmond, Twickenham and Uxbridge – react about the the impact on their lives from the airport now, let alone when it expands. But my view has always been this: these people are not happy with the airport in the first place, even though it has been there since the 1940s. Nothing will convince them that more aviation capacity is a good thing as their prism on the benefits is too narrow. What must happen is what Sir Howard Davies has recommended: strict conditions must be placed and met when delivering the third runway. This way, we get what is best for London, British commerce and the vast number of Londoners who rely on Heathrow, while ensuring minimal impact on quality of life. It’s not wholly a win/win situation but was, is and will continue to be the right result.
Kulveer Ranger is a panel member of LCCI Tomorrow London and former Director of Transport to the Mayor of London