We would be mad to give up the economic advantage that expansion at Heathrow offers
"I changed my mind on Heathrow expansion because the benefits to West London residents is clear; as is the leadership Heathrow can provide the wider industry on climate change," writes Andrew Dakers, Chief Executive of West London Business.
For most of my life I have stood firmly against expansion of Heathrow airport. As a West Londoner, expansion has always been a complex and tough decision facing our community and the climate change impacts of aviation cannot be ignored. As both a Councillor and Parliamentary candidate I committed to lie in front of bulldozers – something that the Prime Minister and I have in common.
However, in late 2012 my views changed on Heathrow expansion, and I set out my reasoning on my blog in 2015. Five years later, I remain convinced of the necessity of the project and the unique opportunity that it presents for West London.
A big part of my Damascene-style conversion was the realisation that the debate had moved on to not whether we should expand airports at all, but where a new runway in the South East of England should be built. As we begin our future outside the EU, the country cannot afford to constrain the trading capacity that Heathrow’s global gateway provides.
And if the question is where to expand, as a West Londoner there is only one answer - we would be mad to give up the economic advantage that expansion at Heathrow offers.
West London’s economic strength is intrinsically tied to Heathrow and its leading international position. Some 202 of the top 300 companies in the UK are clustered within 25 miles of Heathrow, compared to only seven around Stansted and two around the Thames Estuary, as firms that rely on international long-haul flights choose to locate themselves around one the world’s only truly globally connected hub airports. Not surprisingly, the economy around Heathrow reflects some 60 years of investment by these firms.
We would be naive to think that our quality of life in terms of factors such as good quality jobs and high levels of employment is not linked to Heathrow airport. As Chief Executive of West London Business, every day I see the role that Heathrow plays at the heart of our local economy. Many of the jobs and incomes of local residents are supported through the tens of thousands of small and medium sized businesses that we represent – who in turn rely on the connections which Heathrow provides. With expansion, businesses in West London will be in a prime position to access new global markets as dozens of new long-haul trading routes are added to the airport.
Heathrow’s economic power is not just local. As a nation we need to think carefully about ensuring Heathrow remains a world-class airport or risk a number of major employers taking the opportunity to simply relocate their headquarters outside the UK. From the conversations I have with senior business leaders I am in no doubt that this is a very real danger – conversations that I’m sure the Prime Minister has had too.
Another big factor in my change of heart was the approach taken by Heathrow to address local concerns around the project. They listened to local residents and campaigners and improved their proposals, offering a substantial mitigation packages on the key issues of noise, air quality, transport network capacity and carbon emissions. That’s on top of the tens of thousands of new jobs expansion will create locally, and the investment in skills for the next generation of young people in our community that Heathrow has committed to.
And since the Airports Commission unanimously backed Heathrow’s ‘radically different’ plans in 2015, the project has been through intense scrutiny by Government, Parliament, and round after round of public consultation to develop the plans in collaboration with the public. The project has passed every test set for it at every stage of scrutiny.
In 2015 I set Heathrow a challenge: to retain an unrelenting focus on climate change and other environmental impacts, addressing these meaningfully. Since I wrote this, the airport has used the opportunity of expansion to take a leading role in efforts to decarbonise the sector.
Heathrow has become one of the world’s first major aviation hubs to become carbon neutral in its ground operations – quadruple certified by The Carbon Trust. Carbon emissions have been reduced by 93% alongside offsetting through investment in restoring UK peatlands. The airport has launched a £1 million prize for a year of free landing charges for the first electric or hybrid flight to operate from the airport, and only last week Heathrow launched its action plan – called ‘Target Net-Zero’. The plan outlines how Heathrow will decarbonise the airport’s infrastructure in line with the Paris Agreement, play a role in supporting the entire UK aviation industry to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, work with its partners on the ground and in the air to develop sustainable aviation fuels, and call for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to set long-term net zero goal for global aviation.
This ambition to accelerate the transformation of aviation is intrinsically tied to the expansion project. The additional capacity created by expansion at Heathrow will encourage airlines through competition and incentives to change their operations by innovating and investing in new generation aircraft. Government regulation seems likely to force investment in high quality, regulated carbon offset projects by all airlines as a bridge in the transition to zero carbon aircraft.
I changed my mind on Heathrow expansion because the benefits to West London residents is clear; as is the leadership Heathrow can provide the wider industry on climate change. As Prime Minister, I hope that Boris is also able to throw his full weight behind the plans and work to fix the Airports National Policy statement so that this world class infrastructure scheme – on the doorstep of the Prime Minister’s constituency – can unlock the benefits that Heathrow expansion will bring to his constituents, as well as the airport’s global leadership role, and give his unequivocal backing to the project.