The mayor of London’s first duty is to make sure we prosper. Only then can we create the wealth that can make our city a fairer, better place.
There is a debate at the moment about whether we should have a new runway at Heathrow or at Gatwick. It is a heated one.
I believe if we are serious about maintaining our world leading prosperity we need new runways at both, and if I become mayor that is what I will support. New runways at Heathrow and at Gatwick.
For too long in this country difficult decisions about our future infrastructure have been fudged by politicians too worried about their immediate careers. I want to make the decisions which will see London prosper in the long term and not just try to court popularity.
We need to take decisive steps to ensure London remains a city of enterprise that encourages business. And crucially, we need more powers to ensure that the wealth this creates is spent on making London a better, more liveable city for Londoners.
An expanded Heathrow and Gatwick would create a substantial number of new jobs and win London business substantial new income.
It is estimated that an expanded Heathrow would create 180,000 jobs in the UK and would be worth up to £211bn by 2050, while a second runway at Gatwick would provide 120,000 new jobs, and contribute £1.73bn to the economy each year.
Heathrow is currently the busiest airport in Europe, with 73.4 million passengers arriving or departing in 2014. However, other European airports such as Frankfurt-Main and Paris Charles de Gaulle, which have six runways, and Amsterdam Schiphol, which has four, are better equipped to respond to projected future rises in passenger numbers.
In the face of international competition like that we cannot afford to stand still.
It is estimated that the UK is already losing out on up to £15bn a year in trade due to the lack of capacity for cargo at Heathrow.
The demand for air travel is set to increase over the coming decades with the Airports Commission, led by Howard Davies, concluding in their interim report in December 2013 that there is a need for one additional runway to be in operation in London and the south east by 2030, and another by 2050.
Large infrastructure projects in the UK, and London in particular, have traditionally taken a long time to move from initial idea to final approval and construction. The debate about extra runways in London and the South East have been going since the 1940s, while proposals for extra capacity on London’s tube and train network were first formally suggested in the 1970s and its only now Crossrail is being built.
If we are to ensure that London stays competitive in a rapidly changing global market, we must take decisive action now, and allow both Gatwick and Heathrow Airports to build new runways.
London is the centre of British wealth creation, and the benefits of airport expansion will extend to all parts of the UK.
Londoners will rightly be concerned about the impact of new runways on noise pollution, air quality and congestion. We will need to retain powers to stop, delay or reduce usage of these new runways if progress to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and noise pollution is not maintained. Technological progress is, however, bringing within reach the prospect of substantial reductions in such pollution and we need to continue to incentivise the aviation industry to drive down emissions and noise levels in order to take advantage of new capacity.
Gatwick and Heathrow must also make substantial contributions to London’s public transport network before any planes take off from new runways.
But the decision to move forward with this new capacity is needed now. Britain and London cannot afford to delay a decision on one runway now, and nor should we put off a further difficult decision on more runway capacity to some future point in the long distance.
London will face more disruption as a result of these decisions, more so than any other region or nation of the UK, and part of the quid pro quo there must be a substantial further devolution of powers to London so that more of the wealth generated here in our city can be used to tackle our challenges.
I want London to remain a global hub, and we should be happy to be the engine room of the UK economy. But we should demand that Londoners get their fair share of the wealth we create.
London is a great city. Let’s have the guts to make London greater still for ourselves and the generations to come.
Gareth Thomas MP is member of parliament for Harrow West
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