Debate rages over UK capacity


Increasing UK airport capacity is a growing debate in the country and with 10 months still to go before the next general election, the arguments will run and run about whether Heathrow Airport, another South East of England airfield or regional airports should be developed to accommodate the future traffic demand.

The announcement by the UK government’s Airports Commission on 2 September that it rejects the Thames estuary airport proposal, supported by London mayor, Boris Johnson, triggered a number of statements by groups in favour of capacity expansion, anywhere or only at Heathrow, and by those against any more runways. The Commission has been tasked with recommending how the UK increase its runway capacity. It will report after the general election in May next year. The Commission has already reported that the UK needs one extra runway by 2030.

The pro-Heathrow campaign group BackHeathrow says: “The UK still has a problem because Heathrow is bursting at the seams. The Airports Commission has said no to Boris Johnson, but for the sake of local jobs and UK prosperity, it now needs to say yes to growth at Heathrow.” Heathrow’s own chief executive officer, John Holland-Kaye, says: “Heathrow is now the only hub left in the race. We would like to work with the Mayor to deliver Heathrow expansion in a way that benefits the whole country.” An additional runway at Heathrow could be to the airport’s north.

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) is an industry association for carriers operating in the UK. It says of the Commission’s decision: “Airlines were never convinced that the Thames estuary was either affordable or a convenient location for the majority of their customers.” On the day of the Commission announcement, the pro-expansion campaign Let Britain Fly, called on all the political parties to include a commitment to act upon the Commission’s recommendations in their election manifestos – policy documents with pledges of planned action for the electorate.

Let Britain Fly wants the next UK government after May 2015 to act on the recommendations by 2016 at the latest. On the same day the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that the UK is falling behind European rivals in providing routes to emerging economies and that the UK must prioritise a single hub airport with spare capacity to support trade. The CBI is urging the Commission to make a clear case for expansion with work starting by 2020, setting out the type of capacity required, how to improve links across the UK and consider what additional capacity will be needed beyond 2030.

Solutions other than a South East airport are the focus of University of Warwick’s business school senior teaching fellow, Dr Michael Synnott. He advocates the integration of the proposed North-South high speed rail route, called  High Speed Two, (HS2), with airport expansion. Synnott says: “we need to disrupt old ways of thinking and deploy our national transport assets.” Synnott’s views follow the think tank Smith Institute’s July report which pointed to a role for regional airports. Its director, Paul Hackett, also saw a need for linking airports to HS2. Ongoing campaigns opposed to any airport expansion come from, coalitions of local government bodies, local resident groups around Heathrow and environmental organisations.


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