Airports, development, expansion

17 Dec

Apologies in advance for the rant, but this subject has become an axe for me to grind. There are serious discussions on expanding capacity at one or more London airports. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants a new airport built in the Thames Estuary and to have it as a hub for Europe. One plan is to expand Heathrow to have a 4000 metre long runway and have planes landing and taking off at the same time.

The arguments that the airport has to be in London are spurious, the results of blinkered thinking, circular arguments and an unwillingness to make simple links to other developments, specifically HS2. Land values around London are sky high and it is already the only part of the country which is nearing capacity. Britain is a small country, and almost all significant developments in the last thirty years have been around London, merely exacerbating the problem of having a growing population there. Furthermore, we have put all our eggs into one basket, the financial services market which is almost entirely in London. The banking crisis should have shown us that, as a nation, we need (to mix the metaphor), another string to our bow.

Despite all recent developments, many times more people live outside the London catchment area than in it. Having to get to Heathrow from outside the south east is inconvenient, to Gatwick or Stanstead is much worse. Only London has a serious number of international flights, yet the demand is largely (despite the skewed statistics of the advisors), from OUTSIDE London, or at least the numbers are greater, no matter which way you put them.

There is a mindset from those with influence and control which insists that all development has to be in London because that is where the money is. Doh! The reason the money is there is because all the developments in over a generation have been there, and development is what drives economic growth. At the same time, the high speed rail link to Birmingham and from there to Scotland is planned. This still benefits London, but it could benefit other regions too. All it needs is some joined up thinking, some planning on a larger scale. Why not expand Birmingham Airport and link it to HS2. The journey time from Birmingham to London is due to be cut to 35 minutes, which must be quicker than into London from the Thames Estuary or by taxi from Heathrow. Land is much more plentiful and cheap around Birmingham than London and such a development would both relieve the pressure on land around London and provide some benefit to other regions.

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