Britpave: The British In-Situ Concrete Paving Association

Key government fingures call for increased airport capacity

Britpave, the infrastructure group, has welcomed the growing realisation within government of the need for the new third runway at Heathrow. Increasingly, senior Conservative figures are calling for the abandonment of the Coalition Government’s opposition to expansion at Heathrow.

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister has said that “all options” for expanding airport capacity in the South East need to be examined to help kick-start the moribund UK economy. This is a view that is believed to be shared by George Osborne, the Chancellor. Former Environment Minister Tim Yeo, once an opponent to airport expansion, has changed his position and is now fully supportive of a new runway at Heathrow. Mr Yeo, Chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has told the BBC that he had dropped his opposition to a third Heathrow runway and that expansion would “create jobs and be welcomed by the construction industry”. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary has also called for the Government to fast-track expansion at Heathrow.

There is growing speculation that Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary could be moved from her role at the next government reshuffle because of her opposition to a third runway. The Liberal Democrats remain fully opposed to any such expansion. Meanwhile Boris Johnson, the London Mayor favours the construction of a new airport in the Thames Estuary, and Labour’s Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, and Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, are understood to be trying the convince Ed Milliband of the need to do an about-turn on the party’s opposition to a third Heathrow runway.

“The UK must increase hub airport capacity or risk losing business to other European countries. This growing realisation is seeing key Government figures re-examine the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow Airport”, said Alex Lake, Chairman of the Britpave Airports Task Group.

The option of a third Heathrow runway was dropped by the Conservatives at the last election. However, this is now increasingly viewed as being a major economic mistake. Heathrow’s international route network has fallen from 227 destinations in 1990 to 180 today and is forecast to drop to 147. The airport is running at 99 per cent capacity and is being pushed down the international rankings behind other European cities. Paris and Frankfurt have 1,000 more flights per year to the three largest cities in China than Heathrow. It is estimated that the lack of a third runway at Heathrow could cost the UK £8.5 billion in lost business every year over the next ten years.

“While there is still capacity at many of the London Airports, they largely serve a different market to Heathrow and their own opportunities for runway development are restricted too. The main problem today is that there is simply no headroom at London’s hub airport, Heathrow, to either fulfil an increasing demand to fly to emerging economies or deal with major weather events, such as snow. When there is zero headroom everything has to run very smoothly or the system falls over,” said Lake. “I think we would all agree with the long term aspiration for a four runway hub serving London, but that’s in the future – the problem is here and now and we must examine all options and that includes a third runway at Heathrow, in addition to nearby airports taking up some of the strain”.

American airports commonly have seven runways, Schiphol in Amsterdam has six, and Charles de Gaulle in Paris has four. In China, 33 airports have been built since 2006 with a further 45 planned by 2015.

Increasingly, the UK is being bypassed by international flights to emerging markets. Nearly every new route into Europe from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Russia goes through Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Madrid. Research by the British Chamber of Commerce found that business leaders in high-growth economies want direct air links with over 90 percent stating that direct flights influence their investment decision and 80 per cent saying that they would trade more with the UK if there were better flight connections.