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Heathrow is a waste of space


To the west of London, hemmed in by two motorways and shoe-horned into the most overcrowded part of an overcrowded part of an island just off Europe, lies London Airport, often called "Heathrow". This airport has had a few homes over the years Northolt and Croydon being the main previous ones. The airport has 5 terminals and two runways and is surrounded by the usual plethora of hotels and warehouses.

The site covers some 1,227 hectares of prime land.

This airport needs some attention. Governments in the UK have agonised over what to do - if it is the right thing to build a new runway . Yes! said the current airline incumbents - which is hardly surprising, given that asking that question of airlines is rather akin to asking turkeys if they wish to vote for Christmas. Further, given that around half the 76,000-odd people who derive their income from the current Heathrow live nearby, it is also not too surprising to find that those people are not too keen on losing their jobs, either.

Time moved on and an Airport Commission (AC) produced a report favoring a new runway. The Commission spent a lot of time looking at the environment and noise and surface drainage .... and then, on page 39 made a rather telling statement: ".... global aviation has been rapidly changing (sic) and how it will evolve... is difficult to predict"

Clearly, the AC did not bother to look to far. There are some clues around. In a Travel Weekly article (a UK Travel trade magazine) RyanAir (whose CEO Michael O'Leary has, perhaps, more ability at forward thinking than all other airlines executives put together) has decided to look at mainland Europe and Eastern Europe, Eurocontrol has produced reports, including: "Challenges of Growth 2013 - European Air Traffic in 2035" (which, incidentally, identifies Eastern Europe as being the main growth area) and there are reports by such experts as John Wensveen, PhD about the "Mega-Hub" concept. On a smaller scale one notices that American Airlines new aircraft do not fly to Heathrow - but Madrid (apart from one certification run of the 787-9 to Heathrow) and AA focus is not even on Europe, but the East.

Of these, the writings of John Wensveen are worthy of significant attention and should not be ignored. Even for a layman in these matters (like myself) it is clear that aircraft, over the years, have changed. They are bigger, they have greater range.. above all, they cost more money. The notion of a European mega-hub makes complete sense. Any airline must fill as many seats as possible, as cost-effectively as possible, for them to make money. The notion, therefore, that the UK (let alone LHR) needs a "mega-hub" at all, irrespective of Brexit, makes no sense at all.

The Davis Commission (as I have said many times before) failed to take account of Europe as a region and so, totally missed the bigger picture. It is arguably the case that, for the future of air travel, pretty much all of Europe's airports are ... well.... in totally the wrong places. The new thinking needs to be for "City-serving" airports (or transport networks) which then, for long haul, focus on the main regional hubs sited, according John Wensveen, along the lines of a "Centrality Index" which, in turn, produces a "Golden Airport Zone" (GAZ) - this being the centrality of traffic from Europe's top 46 airports, by total passenger traffic. Where does this place the need for a "mega-hub"? You may be surprised: Dusseldorf, Cologne and Brussels. Heathrow does not even get a look-in. And the above is, of course, before we even start to explore the potential of High Speed Rail.

It is not the noise or the environment or any of these matters that make a new runway at Heathrow nonsensical - it is not that one wishes to put one of the busiest motorway junctions in Europe under a tunnel, or somehow lose two main arterial roads or that access from the airport to the city would be hopeless by car or vastly overpriced by public transport (most major cities offer public transport at 10 Euros a pop - the Heathrow Express manages 23 different fares on one route and will probably cost you 30 Euros) - it is that, in terms of the future of global aviation Heathrow is, well, ..... irrelevant.

As a side issue (one close to my heart, this) I am a Member of Chiltern District Council and we work very closely with our neighbor, South Bucks District Council and for information, we have not taken Heathrow's 30 pieces of silver.

Let's just look at housing. The AC report admits that finding homes for any new employees would be "challenging". This is an understatement in the extreme. We are currently struggling to find space for about 5,000 homes and that without biting off large chunks of the Green Belt. We know that 75% of airport jobs are low skilled (translation: social housing needed) and the AC tells us there would be a need for 78,000 new homes. That figure is *not* included in any present Government identified need of 250,000 new homes a year.

Here's a final thought to put that notion into perspective: I said at the start that Heathrow cover 1,227 hectares ... in terms of homes, that space (without infrastructure such as schools, hospitals etc) could accommodate around 43,000 homes. You need 78,000 - You need two sites, for social housing (mainly); each the size of the current airport AND in the Green Belt (as there is no room out of the Green Belt) and they have to be close enough to allow commuting to that new airport.

Good luck with that!

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