Heathrow expansion: Where are the 4th and 5th runways going to be?

Heathrow expansion: Finally the 3rd runway at Heathrow has been given the greenlight, but this alone will not meet our long term needs. 

The decision regarding the approval of a third runway at Heathrow has taken far too long and, quite frankly, if it wasn’t for David Cameron’s political maneuvering to grab a few votes before the 2010 election, would have been built by now. Although I prefer the option tabled in 2009 whereby the runway was to be built to the East of what has currently been suggested, I am pleased that approval has been given. Building a runway over the busiest section of the motorway in the country, which already has serious capacity issues, does raise concerns – will the runway limit any further capacity enhancements of this section of the M25?

The government now faces the next great dilemma of a generation! Where do we build the next fourth, fifth or sixth runway to settle our future aviation capacity needs? The much debated 3rd runway at Heathrow only really gets us to the capacity that we needed 20 years ago and, once opened, will most likely be at full capacity by 2030. In a previous article for Conservatives for Liberty, I suggested that perhaps a three, four or five runway airport at Luton  alongside a three runway airport at Heathrow and a two/three runway airport at Gatwick, would safeguard the UK’s aviation capacity for at least the next 50 years.

I have always supported Luton over Stansted and, to briefly summarise my previous article, Luton has far better transport connections to London, the Midlands and the North than Stansted. Investment has been routinely held back by its owners, Luton Borough Council. Surely a privatised Luton with substantial private investment would give it the upper hand to Stansted? It is, of course, a distant dream but I strongly believe that a two runway airport at Luton and Gatwick would compete and compliment Heathrow and thus should be the government’s position.

We should also try to not get too excited by focussing on the idea of a hub; a hub is not the long term future of the aviation industry. Consumers do not want connecting flights -they are demanding direct door to door flights to destinations all over the world. With smaller planes that can travel further being developed (and improving year on year), the need to connect is less of a priority. The future of our aviation capacity is needed to merely satisfy the vast expanse in business and tourist travel to and from the UK and, therefore, I do not believe therefore that we should be worrying too much about hub status, in the long term.  The apparent obsession with hub status will demand a 4th runway at Heathrow which is completely unrealistic. We must understand the future of aviation and prepare for it now – high capacity and competing airports across the UK should be the priority and this can only be met by expanding other airports, now.

Michael O’Leary was exactly right; we have put all of our eggs into one basket. However, Chris Grayling’s statement in which he said that this decision was made to settle the issue of Heathrow, not to discount other options in the future. We must ensure that this decision does not allow Heathrow to create a monopoly for long distance aviation travel, since it will only be passengers who pay the price. The hub status bandwagon must be fought to prevent this so that choice and competition drives growth and quality. We must allow airports, who put the business case for expansion forward, be allowed to do so.

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty