The Heathrow expansion: how will transport be affected?

10 Jun 2018

There are so many debates and concerns surrounding the expansion of Britain’s busiest airport, London Heathrow. There are also talks, as a part of this expansion, to build a third runway and an additional terminal to accommodate the extra passengers. Here is a balanced view of what has been going on and what is still to happen.


The idea of a third runway was first discussed in 2006, when the Labour department for Transport decided to publish a report in which it was confirmed that they tabled the idea for a third runway. It was initially support by almost everyone, including the TUC, The British Chamber of Commerce, and the aviation industry. However, it was not supported by the Conservatives. The project was cancelled for the 1st time on 12th May 2010 when David Cameron’s government came into power. As of July 2015, the project was back on due to the airport commission stating to the government that expanding Britain’s busiest airport would be the better option.


A plan was submitted by BAA. The government finally approved the plans for a 300m shorter than planned runway and an extra terminal building to accommodate the extra 740,000 flights that is expected to use the new runway. However, these new plans require major reconstruction work of the M25. The cabinet supports the expansion. A full parliamentary vote on whether to approve or decline the plans is expected to take place on Monday 11 June 2018.  


What are the benefits to expanding Heathrow? It is predicted that up to 180,000 jobs will be created as a result of the expansion. These areas will range from construction to security and hospitality. It is also predicted that the financial benefits will be in excess of £187bn once the construction project is complete. There are only six airports that have up to 50 regular long-haul flights, Heathrow has 82, and with the airport set to expand, there is potential to add more long-haul destinations to the ones that Heathrow already have listed.


What are the downsides to expanding Heathrow? Environmentalists were against the issue of expanding Heathrow since it was first discussed. When the parliamentary vote is cast to allow the expansion project to finally go ahead, the current Labour shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, is expected to join Conservative rebels such as Justine Greening and Zac Goldsmith to vote against the plans. His views are that the public will be left with a multi-billion-pound bill for years to come, even if it collapses. Although John McDonnell, whose constituency includes Heathrow spoke out against it, Len McClusky, who is General Secretary of the Unite Union, was quoted in Heathrow’s official announcement statement. To alleviate concerns of those refusing to back the project, a spokesperson from the Department for Transport, which is headed by Chris Grayling, was quoted as saying to The Guardian: “The government has made clear that it believes a new northwest runway at Heathrow is the best scheme to deliver the economic and connectivity benefits this country needs.”


With the expansion of Heathrow, there will be the introduction of new public transport links. National Express are one of the main coach providers in the UK, running the majority of their UK wide airport services from Heathrow Central Bus Station. From here, by coach, you can travel to and from Bridgwater, Bath, Northampton, Cheltenham, Nottingham, Southampton, Bristol, and many more locations, with city hopper fares from as little as £5 on selected routes. Also, for National Express, Heathrow serves as an airport transfer hub for other international airports in the UK such as Stansted, Gatwick, Luton and Bristol, therefore opening up even more opportunities than the ones that are already established.


Great Western Railway also runs a rail-link, which involves travelling to Reading by train and then taking a coach to Heathrow, a journey which takes just 90 minutes. It is noted by several high-profile politicians and managers at GWR that there is the possibility of a new rail link connecting Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol with Heathrow. However, this is yet to be confirmed. National Express and Megabus are yet to announce whether they plan to increase their routes to and from Heathrow as a result of the expansion.


The Heathrow Express runs from Paddington Station, which is ideal if passengers are travelling up from the West Country, or you just want to use the service from London. However, it dos set travellers back a small fortune. An Express saver anytime return (which is the only standard class return available) will cost £37.00, whilst a business class return will set passengers back £55. The three tube stations for Heathrow are located on the Piccadilly line. It has already been stated that tube frequencies will be increased as a result of the expansion.


With an airport as big as Heathrow, the demand for service is huge. Many national airlines operate from Heathrow. It is the main hub for British Airways for all of their short and long-haul destinations. Big American carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, Delta and American Airlines also operate from Heathrow. European carriers such as Air France, Alitalia, Aer lingus, Aeroflot, Lufthansa, Finnair and Flybe also operate from here, and many of these national carriers have codeshare arrangements with other long-haul providers such as Etihad, Emirates, Qatar airways, Air China and Air Canda. Destinations from Heathrow include Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kiev, Moscow, Doha, Dublin, Baku, Istanbul and many destinations in the US. Easyjet have backed the expansion of Heathrow, but due to their UK bases being at Gatwick and Luton, they’ve stated that they wouldn’t consider starting up any routes from Heathrow once the expansion is completed.


Whatever decision is made in parliament later this week, and whether the expansion will go ahead even if it is approved, it is clear that the consequences of a third runway will be momentous for Britain’s transport infrastructure.

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