New Heathrow runway would generate pointless traffic and suppress growth in the regions
As part of its work for the National Policy Statement (NPS) on a new runway at Heathrow, the government (Department for Transport – DfT) updated in November 2017 the air traffic forecasts used by the Airports Commission in July 2015.
The new forecasts are part of the evidence used by the government to try and convince MPs, business, opinion formers and the public alike that a new runway in the southeast of England is vital for the country and the economy.
But the claims are mainly soundbites and hype because they are not backed up by the evidence from the DfT’s own traffic forecasts and economic benefit estimates. If one looks at the detail of the traffic forecasts, some interesting facts emerge.
Pointless polluting transfers
With a third runway, there is a bit more air traffic in the UK as a whole. But most the extra traffic is due to international transfers. These are foreign travellers changing planes in the UK, mainly at Heathrow. See our forecasts briefing for detail including references.
Because the transfer passengers do not stay in the UK, they bring no appreciable economic benefit. But they dump noise and pollution over residents in West London and beyond. They even avoid tax (no Air Passenger Duty, no tax on aircraft fuel, duty-free goods, etc).
Regions lose out
Regions outside the southeast lose out. The forecasts show that a third runway suppresses growth outside London. A third runway reduces growth (from 2016 to 2030) at the non-London airports by 24%. See forecasts briefing for detail and references. See also Richmond Council press release.
Airports particularly hit are:
Birmingham Bristol and Manchester
(The London airports Stansted and London City are also hit.) See forecasts briefing Table 3 for detail.
The reason for this reduction outside London is that there is plenty of spare capacity at all airports except Heathrow and Gatwick. If a third Heathrow runway is not built, terminating demand will be simply be met at other airports.
Less growth in the regions means fewer routes and less connectivity. It means even more concentration of aviation activity in the southeast. It is hard to see how this could be good for regional economies. And it would unbalance even more the UK economy.
These conclusions are supported by the detailed data in the demand forecasts. But the government has chosen to omit these ‘inconvenient truths’ in the NPS document which it has laid before Parliament. By not showing this evidence the government is materially misleading MPs and the public.
Domestic connectivity reduced
In its traffic forecasts the Airports Commission forecast a reduction of domestic routes from Heathrow. It said (page 313 of report) “15.8 ….without specific measures to support domestic connectivity even an expanded Heathrow may accommodate fewer domestic routes in future….”
Not only does the NPS hide this, Chris Grayling actively misled Parliament: “.. this is a project with benefits that reach far beyond London. We expect up to 15% of slots on a new runway to facilitate domestic connections across the UK, spreading the benefits of expansion to our great nations and regions.” Having first admitted “The Government recognises that air routes are in the first instance a commercial decision for airlines and are not in the gift of an airport operator.”
Why would this expectation be met when there is no regulation or subsidy proposed?
Not needed for business
There is no need for a third runway to meet demand for business travel. This is almost entirely met by a two-runway airport. See Richmond Council’s press release. It is worth noting that only a small of flying is is for business and only a miniscule proportion of flights – 1.8% – are British busness people flying long hul abroad. See our economics briefing (para 5).
Who is responsible for this fact-hiding and misinformation? Here’s who.