Our MPs must put the country first and back a third Heathrow runway

Paul Deighton
Evening Standard
As passenger and aircraft numbers increase, the expansion of Heathrow has long been a subject of debate: Alamy Stock Photo
As passenger and aircraft numbers increase, the expansion of Heathrow has long been a subject of debate: Alamy Stock Photo

Today is an important day for Britain, and an important day for London. A vote in support of Heathrow’s expansion will shape our nation for the future.

But plans on this scale are never without their critics. I know this only too well from my role as chief executive of the organisation that delivered London’s 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

I also understand the huge opportunities that such a project can bring. This is why I took on the challenge of chairman at Heathrow as it readies itself for expansion. I see it as my patriotic duty to unlock the huge benefits of this much-delayed project for the UK economy and future generations. I felt the same way as we overcame the challenges during preparations for the Olympics. And I feel it now.

Look at the facts. For London alone, expansion will generate almost 40,000 new jobs and 5,000 apprenticeships. This will result in £44 billion worth of economic benefit to the capital’s economy. It will boost tourism and trade, double cargo capacity — creating up to 40 new long-haul, trading routes — and help London’s businesses compete internationally. These are all immense positives but of course we must develop the airport responsibly.

Paul Deighton is the non-executive Chairman of Heathrow (Glenn Copus)
Paul Deighton is the non-executive Chairman of Heathrow (Glenn Copus)

When I took on this project, I did so with my eyes wide open. My previous experience left me under no illusion about the scrutiny we would, and frankly should, attract. We welcome, and will benefit from, a close examination of our plans. Expansion should only proceed if local communities and the environment are protected and the benefits are felt throughout Britain.

Legitimate concerns must be addressed. However, the discussion surrounding expansion has not always got the facts straight. I want to tackle this head on, as alarmist inaccuracies continue to beset the debate.

The Labour leadership has decided to oppose, although today the party will allow its MPs a free vote reflecting the strong sentiment from the many of them who are in favour. A small number of parliamentarians including John McDonnell and Justine Greening have been particularly vocal in their attacks. I respect their positions but it is crucial they stick to the facts and I have personally written to Greening in the past week to correct a number of points. Let me address the concerns in turn.

Air quality is a priority at Heathrow, and additional capacity will be delivered in accordance with the UK’s legal obligations. Londoners can be confident in this commitment. In fact, new capacity at the airport will only be released when it is clear that it will not delay compliance with these levels.

Noise levels are rightly often discussed – particularly locally. Heathrow has long been at the forefront of international efforts to tackle aircraft noise. We are proud of the fact that, despite an increasing number of flights, our noise footprint has continually shrunk in the past few decades.

"Heathrow expansion will provide every corner of Britain with an economic boost worth billions"

Longer hours without flights, a steeper approach by landing aircraft and a £700 million noise insulation scheme for locals all mean that, with expansion, fewer people will be affected by noise than today. Time and again the question of how this will be financed is raised, so let me be clear: this will be an entirely privately funded scheme.

The country stands to receive a £14 billion cash injection from our long-term shareholders, who want to invest in the UK’s future. Heathrow is backed by the biggest long-term investors in the world with more than $1 trillion of funds under management.

Shareholders have shown their commitment to Britain by making Heathrow a world-class airport, continuing to invest throughout the global financial crisis. They are exactly the people you want behind a £14billion investment in critical national infrastructure and they will help us deliver it affordably.

It is these shareholders that, in the past decade invested £12 billion in the airport’s transformation, with Heathrow rising from 142nd to eighth place in the global airport rankings. It is because of their commitment that our one and only hub airport is in the strong position it is today and Britain has a gateway it can be proud of.

Airlines are naturally concerned that costs are kept under control and we are committed to working with them to ensure we deliver this on budget. This approach was no different when delivering other projects including Terminal 2. With a focus on efficiency we have recently established a process encouraging innovation partners to share ideas on how projects can be delivered affordably, sustainably and innovatively.

When it comes to getting to and from the airport, Heathrow has a strong track-record in encouraging sustainable transport. In the past 15 years, the number of people travelling to the airport in private cars has fallen by a third, even as passenger numbers increase. With improved public transport, and upgrades to rail, bus and coach facilities at the airport, half of all journeys will be made using sustainable forms of transport by 2030, with no more Heathrow-related traffic on the roads as a result.

Heathrow expansion is vital. As the UK’s only hub airport, and largest for exports outside the EU, Heathrow is vital in connecting the nation to global growth opportunities. It is an opportunity to tackle youth unemployment in the boroughs closest to the airport. That is why we want to get on with delivering Britain’s new runway.

A positive vote in Parliament does not mean we will be automatically popping champagne corks. It is now time to put to one side this historic debate and channel our collective energies in delivering this project in the best possible way. Projects of this scale can be daunting but London’s spectacularly successful Olympic Games proved we can produce results. I urge all MPs to put the country and its interests first and vote in favour of Heathrow expansion.

  • Lord Deighton is non-executive Chairman of Heathrow. He was chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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