Proposed Heathrow Expansion Debated

As the call for the expansion of London Heathrow Airport grows more insistent, with high-profile entrepreneur Richard Branson adding his voice to the debate, resident groups that will be affected by the noise caused by an increase in air traffic are raising their objections. Representing more than five million people, the 2M Group is an all-party alliance consisting of twenty-four local authorities investigating the impact the proposed Heathrow expansion will have on their communities and the environment.

Heathrow is the United Kingdom’s busiest airport and as of 2012 was rated as the third busiest airport in the world. Its economic impact on London is enormous as it provides up to 76,600 jobs directly and indirect employment to as many as 116,000 people. Taking into account that a significant number of global corporations have offices with easy access to the airport has resulted in Heathrow being classed as a modern aerotropolis – an urban area with its infrastructure, layout and economy being centered on an airport.

Back in 2009 when it was announced by the UK Transport Secretary that the government was in favor of expanding Heathrow’s capacity by building a third 2,200-meter runway and an additional terminal, bringing the total number of terminals to six, the proposal was opposed by groups who expressed concern regarding carbon emissions, noise and air pollution and the impact this would have on local communities. Prior to the 2010 General Election the expansion at Heathrow became a political issue with both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives making it known that they oppose the expansion of Heathrow, and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, supports constructing a new airport in the Thames Estuary to meet London’s growing air travel needs. Following the elections, it was announced that the proposal of a third runway had been cancelled.

While the proposal to build a new airport on what has been dubbed as “Boris Island” would likely be the most practical from the point of view of dealing with future increases in air traffic, as well as avoiding additional noise and pollution in highly populated areas, the cost of an estimated £30 billion or more is a sizable stumbling block. Also, if the airport was to replace Heathrow, rather than just supplement it, the ripple effect would be devastating for the people and businesses in London relying on the airport for their livelihood.

Branson was recently reported as saying that Britain needed a government that is brave enough to take a decision regarding the airport expansion, and then to just “get on with it”, suggesting that private-sector investment would be the way to fund the venture. His proposal includes building two more runways at Heathrow as soon as possible, while considering other options. However, the government is waiting on the Davies Commission which, under the leadership of former Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies, is examining all options for expanding Heathrow’s capacity with final findings expected in the summer of 2015.