Heathrow boss says vote for expansion shows Britain is open for business

Following MPs’ approval for a third runway at Heathrow, Ryan Tute speaks to the airport’s boss, John Holland-Kaye, on legal challenges, environmental concerns and delivering the project on time and on budget.

The date of 25 June 2018 will long be remembered as a historic date in the history of UK aviation, after MPs cleared the way for the £14bn expansion of Heathrow airport after years of wrangling. Despite environmental concerns and conflicts with neighbouring residents at an all-time high, Heathrow’s boss remains adamant that a third runway will be “transformational for the UK”.

The chief executive of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, has spoken of an “exciting time” for the country and says expansion at the UK’s biggest airport is “absolutely vital” following parliament approval when the government-backed scheme passed the Commons by 415 votes to 119 - a majority of 296.

The government has pledged that the airport will be built at no cost to the taxpayer, create up to 100,000 new jobs and benefit the entire country through guaranteed internal flights to the rest of the UK. Holland-Kaye has hailed the support of the £14bn infrastructure needed to be built by 2026.

But with hundreds of families in surrounding villages facing the prospect of having their homes demolished and growing concerns surrounding air pollution and noise, airport bosses are prepared for legal challenges. A judicial review is set to be launched by four councils that include Wandsworth, Richmond, Hillingdon, Hammersmith and Fulham, along with environmental campaigners Greenpeace and London mayor Sadiq Khan.

However, the Heathrow chief executive has quashed the impact any challenge can have and has insisted the new planning process does not wait on judicial reviews and the reason why the government has taken so long to get to this point is because they are very mindful of all views and have followed due process. 

Speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence, Holland-Kaye said: “The judicial reviews are going to run in parallel with the planning process so we will crack on with preparations. If you think about HS2, I think they had maybe four or five reviews and it didn’t hold up the progress of the rail network and the same will happen with Heathrow. But I think it’s important they happen as we have got to give confidence to local people so they know where they stand, but equally we are making a massive investment in our supply chain both locally and nationally so we need to get on and create the pipeline of jobs needed to build the runway.”

Despite the green light from MPs, the Heathrow boss is under no illusion the job is done and has conceded those behind the bid still have work to do in communicating the benefits of expansion and ensuring local communities understand the measures being put in place to mitigate upheaval and extra noise.

“Just because we have had such an overwhelming vote from MPs and backing from the National Policy Statement it does not mean our job is over,” Holland-Kaye added. “We will be consulting very widely with our local communities right the way through the planning process and afterwards. We are an integral part of our local communities and by a long way the single largest employer and rate payer in Hillingdon, we are central to the local community and that presents a massive opportunity to work closely with them so they understand our plans and we understand their concerns.”

According to the government, residents affected by the scheme will get compensation worth 125% of their value, along with legal fees and stamp duty included - with £2.2bn worth of compensation on offer. A further £700m will also be available to pay for noise insulation for people who remain in the homes. 

Despite the planned strategies and compensation packages, environmental campaign groups have predictably reacted strongly to the government’s approval. Oliver Hayes, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming - and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery. The aviation industry has been promising cleaner planes forever and a day, with little progress or investment. With no government plan to mitigate Heathrow’s carbon emissions, or to address its already illegal levels of local air pollution, it’s astounding that this scheme has been given the go-ahead.”

Responding to environmental concerns, the Heathrow boss said embracing new technology and innovative ideas was key to allaying concerns. “We have set ourselves some big goals for our sustainability such as carbon neutral growth and we have made an open invitation for businesses to come forward with ideas on how you can build and operate a global hub airport in a carbon neutral way and that’s really exciting. New technology will be a core part of the way we build and operate an expanded airport. We need to build an airport fit for the 21st century with a vision to the 2030s and 2040s.”

The man in charge at Heathrow has also refuted claims the major project could not be delivered on budget. He discussed how the airport was “backed by some of the biggest infrastructure investors in the world” and how it has already demonstrated an ability to reduce costs by more than £2bn.

Holland-Kaye said: “We have a good track record in this. Over the last couple of years we have reduced the estimated cost of expansion by £2.5bn. This never happens on big infrastructure projects and we have done that by working with our customers. The vote shows Britain is open for business and that we are going to be taking control of our trading routes. By expanding Heathrow, we are giving people the opportunity to visit all corners of the world. Had we chosen not to do that we would be depending on flights through Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt to get to global markets. Our rivals in Europe would be controlling our supply chain and that would be unacceptable.”

Following MPs’ decision last month, responses from the business community have overwhelmingly been supportive. A long-time backer of a third runway, the CBI said it was “a truly historic decision that will open the doors to a new era in the UK's global trading relationships”. 

Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said “action was long overdue” and the infrastructure was necessary to provide easier between the UK and global markets. Armitt added: “The decision has been years in the making and so I hope ministers now move quickly to maintain the momentum now that this crucial hurdle has been cleared.”

ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said that the decision would be welcomed by the entire industry and would give send a strong signal that UK was able to plan and deliver major infrastructure projects. "It is excellent news that parliament has backed this major project and a real signal of intent that the UK has the vision to plan and deliver significant infrastructure projects,” he said.

It is now the job of the government and airport bosses to keep demonstrating the case for expansion, as those behind the scheme aim for a 2026 completion date.

Government’s five-point pledge for Heathrow:

  • No cost to taxpayers - the new runway scheme will be privately funded. 
  • Massive economic boost to the country - new international routes, more than 100,000 new jobs, doubled freight capacity and benefits of up to £74bn to passengers and the wider economy.
  • Commitment to about 15% of new slots for domestic routes, new rail links, and new global opportunities for regional business.
  • Environmental protection built-in - expansion to be delivered within existing climate change and air quality obligations and a new ban on scheduled night flights.
  • Cast-iron legal protection on commitments - Heathrow’s pledges to be legally enforceable, with punishment of unlimited fines or grounded planes if promises are broken.
If you would like to contact Ryan Tute about this, or any other story, please email rtute@infrastructure-intelligence.com.