October 27, 2016    5 minute read

Here’s The Economic Upside To The Heathrow Expansion

Plans Take Flight    October 27, 2016    5 minute read

Here’s The Economic Upside To The Heathrow Expansion

Years of fierce debate among politicians, business-people and civilians eventually culminated in this week’s decision to grant Heathrow airport permission to begin planning for the construction of a third runway. Spanning around a decade, opinions on the benefits of, and need for an extra runway at Europe’s busiest airport have created a sharp divide within neighbourhoods and political parties alike. Zach Goldsmith’s resignation as MP for Richmond Park epitomises its intra-party divisive effects. While those camped on the anti-expansion side of the argument voice legitimate concerns over environmental damage and increased noise levels, the creation of a third runway would greatly enhance overseas business interest and create thousands of new jobs, creating a valuable asset to both the local West London and national economies.

The Benefits Trump The Downside

It is perhaps all-telling that in the Airports Commission public consultation, run from late 2014 to early 2015, 82% of just over 70,000 respondents – most of whom lived near Heathrow – supported Heathrow expansion. The economic benefit the airport provides to nearby inhabitants, and its allure to international businesses, makes rejecting the opportunity of expansion to meet extremely high demand an unfavourable option. Carrying a quarter of all UK exports by value, its current capacity limit stands at 480,000 flights per year and is now full. Expanding the airport is essential in creating the space to meet new business demand, and would raise the capacity to 740,000 flights. Failure to expand the size to adequately meet demands of a constantly evolving business world would relegate one of Britain’s largest business hubs from the forefront of foreign business interest, and tempt companies to seek alternative capital airports with extra capacities, such as Paris or Berlin.


Tackling unemployment in West London boroughs has been at the centre of local councils’ concerns over the past two decades, and securing permission for the creation of a new runway would not only secure the status of 114,000 jobs that already rely on a fully-operating Heathrow airport, but create the invaluable benefit of an estimated 77,000 new jobs in the area.

With an estimated unemployment rate of 8% in Ealing and 6% in Hounslow (both above the national average), the expansion will provide a welcome opportunity to lessen the rates and better the financial conditions of those living in the West London boroughs. Such economic benefits would be microcosmic of the national economy as a whole – the official estimate of a £210bn financial benefit that Heathrow expansion would precipitate highlights the invaluable and highly conducive nature of a third runway.

Some Legitimate Problems

As with almost all political decisions, a dichotomy of opinions exists. Staunch opponents of Heathrow expansion cite increased noise and air pollution as grave flaws of the plan, enough to cause a disturbance to warrant its abolition. Environmentalists, such as Greenpeace UK, rightly claim the air pollution created by increased plane travel would increase global CO2 emissions.

Noise is also high on the agenda. Though it may contain a strong sense of nimbyism (which, incidentally, by no means invalidates or detracts from the argument), many protest the increased noise pollution it would bring, with estimates that it would negatively impact on close to 100,000 new people. These statistics are by no means ideal but are not all-destructive. It is highly improbable that the creation of a third runway will have seriously severe effects on the environment – the aviation industry is responsible for around 2% of all global carbon emissions. Thus, CO2 contributions will not be catastrophic as many environmentalists are quick to claim.

Setting The Course

By the time the third runway is fully planned and constructed (a process which could take over two decades, if not more) a variety of strong measures will be taken to best curtail aggrieving aspects of expansion and compensate residents’ concerns. The aviation industry will have advanced on its pledge to manufacture “cleaner” aeroplanes which would be more environmentally friendly by the time of project completion.

£700m is the governmental pledge
for home noise insulation

Furthermore, the government is currently backing plans for a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights (something never introduced before), new legally binding noise targets, a pledge to provide over £700m for noise insulation for homes close to the airport, and a guaranteed 125% of the market value for peoples’ homes that will be sold to make way for new space. On top of this, the government also promises a £2.6bn package of compensation and mitigation measures for local communities and guarantees costs of expansion to be funded privately rather than through the taxpayer. Anticipating vexation from residents, the government has offered a sizeable amount to compensate for their grievances.

Win Some, Lose Some

It is not atypical for a political settlement to benefit one camp of people and disadvantage the other – such is the nature of state decisions that there will usually be a section that is disadvantaged. Concerns over the environment and noise levels are legitimate, and their risk factors empirically proven. However, the mass benefits of an expansion to Britain’s core transport hub is highly conducive to meeting the highly growing demand for international business and investment.

Not only beneficial to the economy as a whole, but the large influx of new jobs expansion would also expedite presents a golden opportunity to reduce unemployment rates in local West London boroughs. The government acknowledges that some will be disgruntled by this decision, and has thus pledged a considerable economic “compensatory” package of over £3bn to help them accustom to the new project. Reluctance and hostility to the decision are an unfortunate inevitability, but the creation of a third runway will maintain Heathrow’s status as one of the world’s most attractive trading ports, and shall crucially widen Britain’s front door to new business across the globe.

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