Alternatives to new runways

After the publication of the interim report of the Davies Commission in December 2013, the Liberal Democrats confirmed on a local, national, and European level that: "We remain opposed to the expansion of Heathrow airport."

The Davies Commission interim report accepted that there is existing capacity in the UK which is under-used and that there is no immediate crisis. Passengers from regional airports are travelling through Heathrow to get to the continent, on planes which take up ridiculous amounts of slot space, with no incentive to change. A mass expansion of Heathrow Airport would mean a grotesque increase in ground traffic throughout South West London – a point which merits barely a mention in the interim report.

The Liberal Democrat position on Heathrow is clear: the airport is big enough. We are opposed to a third runway, we have blocked it in the coalition parliament, we were the only Party to vote against it in Select Committee this year, and we oppose all night flights.

There is no connectivity crisis - London is widely regarded as one of the best connected cities in the world with its five airports well serving around 130 million passengers a year. This is more than any other city worldwide.

The Richmond Heathrow Campaign who questioned the urgent need for more runways in London said:

Better use of existing capacity at Heathrow without more runways or flights, and encouraging southeast demand to be spread across all five London airports will:

  • reduce the aviation environmental cost to West London residents,
  • provide for passenger growth and connectivity at a fraction of the cost of new runways,
  • encourage competition resulting in lower fares and better service,
  • reduce and spread the financial and operational risk,
  • reduce climate change emissions,
  • improve operational resilience and allow night flights to be phased out.

When Heathrow embarked on their proposals to build Terminal 5, they told the Government and local community that this would solve their problems because it would allow some 90 million passengers a year to pass through the airport. In fact, this number is still hovering stubbornly around the 70 million mark, because of low passenger loads and a slots system which does not incentivise bigger, fuller aircraft.

In addition to this, there are currently ~20 million non-UK international transfers which are are of little benefit to the UK (or to individual travellers who generally prefer direct flights).

As the Richmond Heathrow campaign said: "Contrary to the impression given by the pro-expansion lobby almost all low frequency long-haul destinations have no transfers and do not depend on transfers for viability. Transfers in fact lead to an unnecessary and inefficient increase in flights to popular destinations. The most popular long-haul destination, New York, is heading towards one flight every 15 minutes from Heathrow with the gross inefficiency of planes being half empty."

There are only around 4 million UK business long-haul passengers from London and the South East (just 3% of total demand). Even if this doubled over the next 30 years, the provision of new runway capacity is wholly out of proportion to the needs of business.