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Mixed views from the industry as government backs Heathrow expansion

Words: Laura Edgar
Heathrow Airport / iStock_000027415278

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says a new runway at Heathrow Airport will be ‘devastating’ for air quality across London while businesses have welcomed the government’s decision to support expansion at the airport.

Khan said the decision is the wrong one for London and Britain as whole.

Following the announcement today (25 October) that the government is in support of expansion at Heathrow Airport, plans will now be taken forward in the form of a draft national policy statement for consultation. This is expected to be published in the new year.

The government’s decision is in line with a recommendation made by the Airports Commission last year.

Professionals across the industry have responded with mixed views.

Government running ‘roughshod’ over Londoners’ views


Khan said the decision by the government support a third runway at Heathrow Airport is the wrong one for London and the whole of Britain.

“The government are running roughshod over Londoners' views – just five months ago I was elected as mayor on a clear platform of opposing a new runway at Heathrow, a position that was shared by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP candidates in that election.”

He said a new runway at Heathrow would be “devastating” for air quality across London, with air pollution around the airport “already above legal levels of NO2”.

“Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid combined. A third runway would mean an extra 200,000 people impacted, exposing 124 more schools and 43,200 more schoolchildren to an unacceptable level of noise.

“An expanded Gatwick would have boosted our economy without causing these huge air and noise pollution problems, and it could be built quicker and cheaper.”

He added that he would continue to challenge the decision and explore how he can be involved with any legal processes over the coming months.

Gatwick ready to go when time comes


Stewart Wingate, chief executive at Gatwick Airport, said the airport is disappointed with the decision, stating it is not the right decision for London.

Gatwick, he said, put forward a “credible” financeable and deliverable plan for expansion.

“It is a plan that can guarantee growth and guarantee certainty for Britain. We look forward to studying the full reasons behind the government’s decision in detail.

“The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed. Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”

Heathrow makes most economic sense


Gerry Hughes, chief executive at Bilfinger GVA, a real estate advisory service, noted the company’s support for the Airports Commission’s recommendation.

He said expanding Heathrow makes the “most economic and strategic sense” for London and the UK.

“It safeguards the economic powerhouse that is the M4 corridor – one of the most significant concentrations of knowledge-led businesses in the world.”
However, Hughes said it is disappointing that a lengthy consultation is yet to come.

“We must move forward with this now, focusing on how the expansion is delivered and not risk further delay to the disadvantage of our economic future.”

Damaging blow for local people


Expanding Heathrow would be a “hugely damaging blow for local people, according to Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth.

It also “makes a complete mockery of government commitments to tackle climate change”.

Friends of the Earth said it would fight the expansion “every step of the way”.

Heathrow expansion offers ‘significant job creation’


Keith Brown, cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work at the Scottish Government, welcomed the decision.

Growing the number of direct international air routes to and from Scotland’s airports, but a third runway at Heathrow “offers all our airports a range of benefits that will help them grow passenger numbers and continue to build on their successes”.

“Expansion at Heathrow offers significant job creation, major investment opportunities and, crucially, seeks to address how all of Scotland’s airports benefit from the new runway capacity when it is built and also in the lead-up period.”

Should be seen as the first step


Jason Brooks, UK head of aviation at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, said this “landmark moment” is being rightly celebrated.

The industry’s response should be to “seize the opportunity,” and use this platform to become the world leader for major infrastructure design.

However, it should also be seen as “just the first step” to increasing airport capacity in the South-East.

“The strategic importance and growth potential of London Gatwick remains critical; we also need a new runway there too in due course, for the UK to be able to maintain its position as a leading global aviation player and economic powerhouse.”

“The building of a third runway will provide enormous logistical, engineering and environmental challenges. We know sustainability will rightly play a crucial role for the duration and legacy of its construction. The industry’s response should be to seize the opportunity, continue working hard to attract the best and the brightest minds, and use this platform to become the world leader for major infrastructure design.”

Will enable UK to be outward facing


For Richard Robinson, chief executive, civil infrastructure, AECOM, the decision is the right one, and not a moment too soon.

“Giving Heathrow the green light for a third runway will enable the UK to be more outward-facing and better positioned to compete on the global stage.

“The focus now must be on accelerating delivery. Quickly securing the right legal mandate via the necessary environmental and planning approvals is vital.”

Simply has to be Heathrow


Len Rosso, head of industrial and logistics at Colliers International, said: “While there is certainly a business case for runway expansions at both Heathrow and Gatwick, given the significant investment in Heathrow’s reputation as a globally significant transport hub, today’s decision simply had to be in favour of Heathrow.

“So much time and capital has already been invested at Heathrow and the surrounding area to build the best connections, infrastructure and facilities that, to have chosen Gatwick, the government would have severely undermined Heathrow’s reputation and status on the world stage.

Jonathan Manns, director of planning at Colliers International added that the extension of Heathrow would “undoubtedly” precipitate a review of housing and employment forecasts in West London at the Thames Corridor.

Infrastructure sector well prepared


Grahame Carter, operations director at engineering recruitment specialist Matchtech, said there is a substantial pre-existing talent pool in the UK, particularly within the buildings and highways sectors.

This, he said, “coupled with transferable skills from other infrastructure markets as well as the up-skilling of existing workforces means we are well prepared to deliver this flagship aviation project”.

But Heathrow expansion would “inevitably” call for skilled professionals from overseas.

“Depending on the nature of the UK’s departure from the European Union, we may face challenges importing qualified engineers, which would significantly narrow the talent pool available for this scheme.”

Image credit | iStock