Perhaps the biggest long term story though is at Heathrow, where expansion remains constrained, but where there remains the possibility of further expansion. The Davies Review is considering all options for solving what all sides agree is ‘an aviation capacity crisis’ which could see UK Plc overtaken by a horde of challenger economies if it is not tackled decisively.
Heathrow is in competition with Gatwick, Luton, Stansted (recently sold to MAG), and the idea of a brand new airport in the Thames Estuary to continue to be the UK’s main hub airport. The Davies Review will produce an interim report this autumn which could decide Heathrow’s future.
Some believe that should Heathrow not be allowed to expand, it can remain a two-runway airport, still throwing off the economic benefits that it does now.
Others feel that either you’re a hub airport, or you’re not. The option of Heathrow as a ‘business’ airport, or a ‘premium leisure’ operator is difficult to see working, they say, as to be a hub you need to offer easy, quick flight changes from all destinations. “One hub or none” is how Heathrow’s owners put it. Either Heathrow expands, or closes.
Indeed, some of the funding plans for a new Thames Estuary airport include around £10bn from the sale of the Heathrow site. Leaving aside whether Heathrow Airport Group’s shareholders would be prepared to allow the appropriation of their assets in that way, would the site be worth that much if it were 50 miles from the UK’s hub airport?
What would happen to the value of surrounding properties – residential and commercial - should the UK’s hub airport, and the 200,000 jobs it sustains, move to Gravesend? Will West London retain its golden aura if one of its key locational advantages – being between the City of London and the gateway to the World - disappears?
West London is an investment hotspot now, but we may need to think about how best to keep it that way.
Ross Sturley is the content director for Place West London, the sub-regional economic development summit. To learn more visit www.placewestlondon.com .