Today’s announcement by the mayor’s aviation outriders on a futuristic new London borough of Heathrow on the site of an abandoned Heathrow airport are little more than pretty pictures masking wild guestimates for future jobs. Yet again the mayor’s plan for a Thames estuary airport has been confirmed as an economic nightmare for west Londoners, who are little more than an afterthought from a mayor looking for a legacy.
Whilst Howard Davies hasn’t yet decided on whether or not a hub airport is the solution to the south-east’s capacity crunch, the mayor’s plans reflect a fact well understood in the aviation world: to make long-haul flights to emerging economies succeed, you’ve got to fill big planes with passengers from across Europe. That’s not possible without having a mix of small and large aircraft converging in a central point, because no time-poor flyer wants a three-hour, cross-London transfer. For that, a hub is required.
But if the mayor gets his way to switch the airport axis and relocate the UK’s only hub to east London, the almost undisputed consensus is that you’d need to shut Heathrow. In the process some 75,000 jobs employed directly at Heathrow and countless others in the area would evaporate.
In his submission to the Davies commission, with all the resources of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to evidence and support his claims, the mayor’s best estimate for new jobs on the site of Heathrow was 43,500. He confirmed that figure after I questioned him at city hall only last month. Today a new figure of 200,000 has emerged.
The mayor can spell out in great detail the scale and impact a new hub airport will have on the people of Kent and Essex, who will see a four- or five-runway airport dumped on their doorstep, and a new city the size of Sunderland to support it. However, for the Londoners he actually represents there is very little detail.
Missing also from anyone’s analysis is the impact the closure of Heathrow will cause on the wider economy. Without Heathrow, there would be little justification for the tens of thousands of jobs in hotels and logistics warehouses that surround the airport who would have to relocate too. Many of the world’s leading multinationals based along the M4 corridor would be forgiven for wanting to relocate their business close to where they can get their top people off aircraft and into their offices without a long cross-London train ride.
Also missing is the impact that loss of the Heathrow ‘pound’ that wage-earners spend in local shops, and on their rent and mortgages. For councils too, the loss of business rates and council tax from gainfully employed people will have dramatic consequences on public services, like the schools Heathrow workers send their children to, and care services that their parents will depend on.
Quite what these mythical 43,500 to 200,000 jobs will comprise of too is a mystery. But for a city like London, where a first degree is often a prerequisite of employment, losing a major employer that takes young adults fresh from college will restrict even further the choices of students who feel university is not for them.
Residents have suffered for far too long with the misery of noise and air pollution Heathrow causes. Heathrow simply cannot expect that the threat of closure excuses them from taking real action to make the lives of their neighbours quieter and healthier.
But bulldozing the biggest driver of jobs and prosperity in west London is not a realistic solution residents and employees can live with. The future of people’s livelihoods in our part of London need to be much more than an afterthought from a mayor so keen on securing a legacy project, when the real legacy will be economic devastation.
Onkar Sahota is assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon and a practising GP. Heathrow airport is located entirely in his constituency. He tweets @dronkarsahota
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