Viewpoint - 01/07/2015

Heathrow decision secures long term prosperity for region

After years of political controversy, The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, has reported its unanimous recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow airport. While the decision to proceed remains in the Government’s hands, the report’s backing of Heathrow over the alternatives is welcome news for the business community of West London and the wider Thames Valley region.

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A three-runway Heathrow would enable capacity for up to 740,000 flights a year and will meet projected demand until at least 2040. As well as creating around 70,000 new jobs, it would enable Heathrow to compete more readily with Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam as a leading international hub airport long into the future, with routes to around 40 new destinations.

At 65m sq ft, the Thames Valley office market is a leading international hub of technology businesses. Stretching from West London eastwards along the M4, the market arguably owes its very existence to the presence of Heathrow airport. Since the early 1980s, the region has provided a key European foothold to a wave of technology companies, benefitting from ready access to international markets via Heathrow with areas of outstanding natural beauty for company executives to reside in.

A commitment to expanding Heathrow will provide long term security for property occupiers, owners and developers in the area. Crucially, new routes will stimulate further inward investment, encouraging international firms to locate in around Heathrow. This includes the emerging economies such as China, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia, where there are currently few direct flights, but where there is real potential to boost UK trade links and attract flows of global capital.

The region is already benefitting from major improvements in rail infrastructure, namely WRAtH and Crossrail, and Heathrow’s expansion will augment this investment. A large number of locations stand to benefit, including Chiswick, Ealing and Hammersmith in West London, together with key towns along the M4, such as Bracknell, Reading and Maidenhead, which are home to an array of global technology giants.

It is also easily overlooked that hundreds of businesses operating in the warehousing and distribution sector depend entirely on being located in the vicinity of Heathrow. As well as securing the long term presence of existing occupiers, additional airport capacity would allow more cargo to pass through the airport, driving demand for new warehousing development in the area.

The Commission’s decision to back expansion at Heathrow of course brings negative consequences, primarily to West London’s residential areas in the direct vicinity of the airport. Additional air traffic into a new third runway will mean more noise across a wider affected area, and local objection is inevitable. While the Government will have to work hard to deal with this, it must accept the Commission’s recommendations as the right decision and move forward before damage is done to the UK’s long term economic prospects.

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