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It’s become fashionable in the Conservative party over the last few years to view London as an afterthought. However, the party is forgetting what an asset London is to the country as one of the most globally connected places on Earth. This connectivity, however, is not a given and will quickly slip away without the right infrastructure in place to handle the international passage of millions of Londoners. This infrastructure, of course, is air capacity.

When Boris Johnson was London Mayor in 2011, he raised the fear that without an increase in airport capacity, London would become a destination on the end of a branch line” – and he was absolutely right. Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt, he warned, all had at least twice as many runways to Heathrow’s two, and were thus primed to handle extra traffic to developing economies – like China and India. Twelve years later, the situation hasn’t changed. London’s air passenger capacity has not increased, so it’s time Conservative Mayoral candidates beat the drum for expansion at Heathrow and put London on the mainline, not the branch line.

It’s easy for London’s elected representatives to curl their toes at the thought of expanding Heathrow and reach for an alternative solution. Many of which were rejected by the 2015 Airports Commission, such as building the impractical Thames Estuary Airport or expanding Gatwick, who recently submitted its plans for bringing its second runway into full operation. This might seem like a tempting alternative to expanding Heathrow, but suppressed demand at Heathrow is far higher than at Gatwick. Meaning new passenger and cargo links will develop far more quickly at Heathrow than waiting for the demand to shift to elsewhere. This leaves London’s future Mayor with a simple choice; expand Heathrow or risk London’s growth.

It seems impossible for any Mayoral candidate to laud London as a successful, global city and let its economy, the size of Sweden, settle for second rate international connectivity. For instance, Heathrow only serves six destinations in Latin America, whilst Amsterdam serves 12. Building a third runway won’t just give London a fighting chance to continue to compete with other global cities in today’s challenging economic environment, but will also provide a boon for boroughs like Hounslow and Hillingdon, where Heathrow is a massive driver to the local economy. 

Just look at the evidence by trade-body Airlines UK, who found that, as of 2021, West London constituencies like Hayes & Harlington and Brentford & Isleworth were home to over 6000 and over 8000 aviation related jobs respectively. By releasing the pent-up demand at Heathrow, a Conservative Mayor could revitalise support for the Conservatives across West London, by spreading wealth and prosperity across these somewhat undervalued working-class West London boroughs. Plus, with a £61 billion boost to the UK economy over 60 years, the wealth generated from expansion will help the Conservatives to deliver on levelling-up nationwide.

There are of course plenty in London who would be more than happy to see a total reduction of flights, but if we are to remain a global city of culture, business and values, then having an extensive international travel system is paramount. London cannot be left to wither on the vine, it needs its global connections. So expanding Heathrow remains London’s only option for growth.

Miles Bassett is former Chair of Wandsworth and Merton Young Conservatives. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Ricahrd Bell]