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Heathrow Airport expansion: What impact could the multi-billion pound project have on the North West?

Heathrow Airport expansion: What impact could the project have on the North West?

In June, MPs backed contentious plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport with promises abound of benefits for the whole of the UK. As the project takes its next step towards fruition, Move Commercial examines what impact the multi-billion pound expansion could have here in the North West.

Words by Lawrence Saunders

The then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson might have given it a miss but June’s House of Commons vote on plans to build a third runway at Heathrow was ‘kind of a big deal’.

With Tory MPs under orders to support the proposals, the government won a decisive victory with a thumping majority of 296.

Construction on the expansion could now start within three years, with the runway operational by 2026.

Heathrow believes the development, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe, could result in a £187 billion economic benefit for the UK, new routes to “growing economies” in Asia and the Americas, and 180,000 new jobs.

Here in the North West that could mean 15,300 new jobs and a boost of up to £16bn.

Ahead of the vote, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling urged members to seize the opportunity of new overseas markets for British businesses and the creation of thousands of jobs.

He also promised guaranteed benefits for the whole of the UK including new rail links and new global opportunities for regional businesses.

These “guaranteed benefits” are the extra domestic flights the government has committed to, with 15% of slots from the new runway potentially being ring-fenced and exempt from air passenger duty.

It’s reported that six regional airports could be added to the Heathrow hub network, including Liverpool, meaning direct flights between the two famous cities could return for the first time since 1992.

“The use of off-site manufacturing and Heathrow’s innovative proposal for logistics hubs has the potential to rebalance jobs more equitably throughout the country, including the North West.”

“The government’s decision on a third runway for Heathrow must include additional capacity for a direct link between Liverpool and London,” says Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.

Flybe is reputedly keen on picking up the route, with the airline looking forward to working with Heathrow to explore the “viability and commercial feasibility of developing more domestic routes”.

Meanwhile Mayor Rotheram’s city of Liverpool counterpart concurs that it’s high time the Liverpool/London connection was restored.

“The incredible renaissance and growth we have experienced over the last decade means the time is now right to reconnect with Heathrow, giving people travelling for business or pleasure the opportunity to fly in and out of Liverpool and on to destinations around the globe via a hub airport,” says Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson.

For its part, Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) welcomes the news that the project is moving forward but is mindful there is still “a long way to go”.

At the other end of the M62, the region’s biggest airport believes it’s “vital” that with a year to go until Brexit, the government does more to “maximise the potential of all airports”.

> Related | Liverpool John Lennon Airport unveils long-term growth vision

“[The] government must match its support for a third runway at Heathrow with specific and practical proposals – not least because new capacity at Heathrow is more than a decade away,” says a spokesman for Manchester Airport following the Commons vote.

“Manchester Airport has provided new links to North America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia over the last year, and has the potential to deliver many more direct long haul services in the years to come.”

It would appear much of the government’s rationale behind how the third runway will benefit the North West is reliant on other high profile transport developments including HS2.

Regional passengers will not only be able to link with Heathrow via increased domestic flights, but also take advantage of shorter journey times on the railways.

According to Heathrow, a train ride from Liverpool to the airport which now takes around three and a half hours will be reduced to an hour and 50 minutes by 2032 – when the second phase of the high speed line is due to open.

Likewise, the rail trip from Manchester is expected to be cut from around three hours and 20 minutes to an hour and a half.

It’s worth noting these times have been forecasted based on the assumption that Heathrow will be connected to a high speed rail network via the planned passenger interchange at Old Oak Common.

“The decision on a third runway must include additional capacity for a direct link between Liverpool and London.”

“Government should match [investment at Heathrow] by, specifically, accelerating the delivery of HS2 and ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’,” adds a Manchester Airport spokesman.

Alongside internal flights, logistics hubs – where components of the airport will be pre-assembled – have been heralded as another possible benefit to the rest of the country.

Chairman at Heathrow Airport, Lord Deighton has called the strategy a “once in a generation” opportunity to “transform the UK construction industry” and deliver a “lasting skills legacy for future generations”.

And in April a delegation from the UK’s busiest airport visited Greater Manchester as part of its tour of sites bidding to help build the third runway.

Alongside the inspected locations in Bolton and Rochdale, other sites longlisted as potential hubs across the North West include Cammell Laird in Birkenhead and Port Salford.

Specifics on how the logistic centres will work are yet to be revealed, and with a lack of concrete plans the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) says it’s difficult to predict the exact impact the hubs could have here in the North West.

However the national body is still behind the government’s policy which would make the Heathrow expansion the first major infrastructure project to employ off-site construction centres.

“High quality international connectivity is vital to the UK’s economic wellbeing and ICE supports the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow,” says Hannah Vickers, head of policy and public affairs at ICE.

“We also support the use of off-site manufacturing and Heathrow’s innovative proposal for logistics hubs, which has the potential to rebalance jobs more equitably throughout the country, including the North West.

“We are encouraging other client organisations to join with Heathrow to develop this network of hubs to serve more infrastructure delivery organisations.”