Report attacks Heathrow expansion

(2.12.2007     Times)

The effect of the delays and inefficiency of Heathrow on the economy, and on
the City in particular, is cited by the government as the chief reason why the
airport should expand, with the construction of a third runway to the north of
the existing pair.   However, a new report commissioned by opponents of the expansion
plans questions the economic justification for the airport’s growth.  

Expansion plans are fiercely opposed by locals and environmental campaigners.  
Londoners say they will bear the brunt of the one-third increase in flights, while
green groups say there will be an inevitable increase in harmful greenhouse-gas

Ministers say such objections, while valid, do not outweigh the potential economic
damage from leaving Heathrow as it is.

Antiexpansion groups have so far steered clear of the economic debate.   But now
HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), the main antiexpansion
lobby group, with about 10,000 members, is planning to change tack and challenge
the business argument for more runways.

"In the past we have not tackled the economic argument, which has left us fighting
with one hand tied behind our back," said John Stewart, Hacan’s chairman.

Hacan has commissioned CE Delft, the respected Dutch transport and environmental
consultants, to probe the economic claims made to support expansion. The report
is likely to be launched early next year, but The Sunday Times has spoken to its
authors in advance of publication.

First, the case for expansion. Most of the pro-aviation arguments advanced by
Kelly and others, in particular the CBI, use for their basic material two reports
from Oxford Economic Forecasting (OEF).

In 1999, OEF found that aviation contributed £10.2 billion to GDP and directly
employed 170,000.

In 2006, OEF found that aviation’s contribution had increased to £11.4 billion,
with 186,000 directly employed.

In 2006 OEF also noted the broader effect on the economy:  tourists arriving
by air contributed £12 billion, and 55% by value of the UK’s manufactured exports
to countries outside the EU went by air.

Countering arguments that without a third runway at Heathrow, London will become
an economic backwater,

Bart Boon, consultant at CE Delft, said that over the past decade, London’s economy
has enjoyed impressive growth, and the City has become the world’s financial capital  
– all without a third runway.   The frustration that business experiences with
Heathrow … is just about the efficient running of the airport.

The evidence is that despite Heathrow having been in effect full for nearly 20
years, business people have continued to come here. It is ridiculous to think
that they will suddenly stop," said Boon.

CE Delft’s analysis will point out that other factors  – language, life-style,
education, and the availability of the right professional skills  – are more important
in determining London’s success as a financial centre   than just having a larger

Leisure, rather than business travellers, account for the majority of passengers
using Heathrow.

"If you do not expand capacity you might end up pricing some leisure travellers
out of Heathrow, but you will not price business travellers out any time soon,"
Boon said.

CE Delft’s report is also likely to include criticisms of the original OEF reports.
Four years ago Berkeley Hanover Consulting, which was asked by a group of local
authorities to examine the issue, said the government had consistently overstated
the economic benefits of Heathrow and failed to calculate the full cost of dealing
with its environmental problems.

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