UK Airport Expansion

The time for talking is over. The public consultation period inviting people to submit their views on the best way to expand the UK’s airport capacity has officially closed. It is now the unenviable task of Chairman Sir Howard Davies and his colleagues at The Airports Commission to consider the merits or otherwise of the 50,000 submissions that the process has elicited. We have been told to expect his final verdict sometime this summer, along with details of ‘who said what’ in their submissions.

As effectively a two horse race between Heathrow and Gatwick in the final stages, for those companies, like Tenkay, based in the South of England, the debate has been in danger of becoming parochial, depending on which of these two options happens to favour you or your business. But in truth the real issue is which airport is best suited for expansion to benefit the country’s economy as a whole rather than just the local economy.

The arguments have raged back and forth. High profile businessmen and women have lent their names very publicly to one faction or the other and impassioned, eloquent arguments have been put forward on the grounds of protecting the environment. For example, according to one submission, expansion at Heathrow would mean another 130,000 aircraft flying over London with unavoidable noise and air pollution implications for 320,000 more people living underneath the flight path.

However, one point on which everyone seemed to be agreed is that a decision cannot wait any longer without serious damage to the UK economy.

A survey conducted by our own trade body, EEF (Manufacturers Association), showed that around three quarters of respondents favoured Heathrow in three vital areas: frequency of flights, range of destinations and strategic benefit to the existing national road network. Five regional airports – Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool John Lennon and Newcastle – made the very fair point that this was not about London, but the UK. They also pointed out that the aviation industry employs 960,000 people. With all their undoubted experience and authority they voted in favour of Heathrow, which they see as the best ‘hub’ for the country.

It is difficult to argue with such logic, especially when they point out that 120 of the country’s top 300 companies are sited within a 15 mile radius of Heathrow compared with 16 for Gatwick. Added to which, it is estimated that there could be another 180,000 jobs created and an extra 10,000 apprenticeships for our young people.

The arguments will continue because, at the end of the day, there is no perfect solution. There can only be the best solution in the circumstances.

What do you think?