London needs more hub capacity. Piecemeal growth at various airports (a new runway here and there) won’t work. Every capital city needs one principal airport where major airlines can concentrate their services most effectively.
Expansion of Heathrow is the obvious solution. There is space to create a four-runway airport there. It would be one of the cheaper options available and can be achieved fairly quickly. The only stumbling block is public opposition. Successive governments have run scared of upsetting the residents of west London, and the wealthy areas further out, who have been vocal in their objection.
If a new airport has to be developed elsewhere, the economic impact on the area around Heathrow could be devastating. Of course, Hounslow, Feltham and the other districts immediately close to the airport would be hardest hit because they supply so much of the labour to the airport. However, the impact would be felt in the wealthier areas as well – Richmond, Windsor, Chiswick and even Fulham have a huge economic benefit from being close to such a major airport. All you need do is count the number of major international corporations who have their UK offices in the “Heathrow corridor” to see the huge potential loss if a new hub were developed elsewhere.
Yet local residents seem oblivious to this. Even in Hounslow, which depends heavily on the airport, around 50% of the local population appear to object to airport expansion.
A few weeks ago, Birmingham Airport made a publicity splash by announcing plans to build an extra runway and become a major alternative hub to London. The reaction in the local media was strangely positive – all those extra jobs and investment seemed very tempting. Maybe locals did not take the plan very seriously – the Birmingham Airport CEO is rather a publicity junky and too keen on making grandiose statements about future plans that hide the rather mundane current growth.
However, there is an important fact here. Everyone seems agreed that they want jobs, investment and economic growth. A major new airport will drive that.
The only thing that is holding back growth at Heathrow is public opinion. Maybe it is time for a simple question to the few million people that live in the broader Heathrow area. Do you want it or not?
If the answer is negative, there are other areas that do. They should be given the chance – and if west London turns into an economic backwater, as the old docklands did, then so be it.