Twenty-six years. That’s how long it took from conception to delivery of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in 2008.
I was listening to Adam and the Ants and Duran Duran when the idea was first mooted, for crying out loud!
So let’s not get too excited (or angry, if you live on the flight path) about the government’s decision this week to back the development of a third runway at Heathrow.
This is just the beginning of a very, very long process, which itself follows a very, very long process to even get to this point: the expansion of airport capacity in the South East has been on and off the agenda since 2001.
It will also be a very, very expensive one: the government already forked out £15m to £20m to produce the Davies Commission report last year, which backed a third runway at Heathrow, but that pales into insignificance compared with the billions that will be spent developing the runway if the green light is given after the year-long government consultation.
But you know what? At least Theresa May has had the balls to make a decision and kickstart the next phase of this very, very long, very, very expensive process. And there could only be one choice, couldn’t there?
Prior to the EU referendum, you could have legitimately debated the pros and cons of expanding Gatwick or Heathrow. The Brexit vote changed that. Suddenly, May had to send out a strong message that the UK remained open for business.
She had no choice but to favour Heathrow - after all, it is Europe’s busiest airport and if it doesn’t expand it would be in serious danger of losing its status as such to Charles de Gaulle or Schiphol, both of which it has lost traffic to in recent years.
‘Wrong decision for Britain?’
London mayor Sadiq Khan vehemently disagrees, of course, calling it “the wrong decision for London, and the wrong decision for the whole of Britain”.
Let’s face it, though, he really means just London. Few outside London would dispute the advantages of expanding Heathrow over Gatwick.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) October 26, 2016
The prime minister certainly won’t find many objectors in the commercial property sector. Industry leaders have been queueing up to praise the decision, describing it as “the one that makes the most economic and strategic sense”, “the right solution” and “very positive”.
What’s to argue with? It is the obvious choice logistics-wise given that so much world cargo goes through it already: 84% of SEGRO customers supported expansion of Heathrow, which says it all.
There are also expected to be major upsides for the area’s office markets.
Agents are predicting increased demand for all commercial space within easy reach of the airport, which would be a major shot in the arm for a market that has been relatively subdued since initial Heathrow expansion plans were abandoned in 2010.
Of course, there is a long way to go yet and you can be sure that opponents will do everything they can to thwart the plans. Khan, who was in favour of expanding Gatwick, has already vowed to challenge the decision. But rather than going back to the drawing board again, let’s address the valid concerns and ensure Heathrow’s expansion takes flight - in our lifetime preferably.