Flights to Scotland and the north are being squeezed out. That's why we need to expand Heathrow

The way forward? Image: Getty.

The result is finally in. The Airports Commission has spent almost three years examining where a new London runway would be best placed; now it has recommended a new northwest runway at Heathrow.

As long ago as December 2013, the Commission concluded that there is a clear case for one net new runway in London and the South East by 2030. This sentiment was echoed by David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions when he confirmed that, “There is the need for additional airport capacity in the South East of England, not least to maintain this country’s competitiveness.”

These were encouraging words. However, both the prime minister and the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, emphasised that the government would take time to read and reflect upon the report before responding. It is therefore likely that there will not be an official response until the autumn.

Yet, now that the Commission has delivered a clear recommendation for a new Heathrow runway, it is imperative that there is political action, and that the government makes its final decision sooner, rather than later.

As we wait for this to take place, it is important to remember that while the Commission has recommended a new runway be built in London, airport expansion is more than a question of where to put two and a half kilometres of tarmac. At its heart this issue is about the whole of the UK’s economic success and international competitiveness.

While politicians have spent the last 50 years dithering and prevaricating on expansion, London’s airports have been filling up. Heathrow is currently running at 98 per cent of capacity; Gatwick is full at peak times. Most other London airports are forecast to be full by 2030.

These constraints on available capacity have had dire consequences, not only in terms of the availability of air links to international destinations from London airports, but also for domestic air connections to and from other key cities around the UK. It’s particularly affected those cities in the north, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Let Britain Fly’s recent report, The Importance of Domestic Connectivity, examines how capacity constraints at London’s airports have resulted in domestic flights to and from the capital being “squeezed out” in favour of more profitable, long-haul routes.

Flights between London airports and key cities across the UK including Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle have all seen a decline in connectivity in recent years. Indeed, the overall number of domestic destinations served from Heathrow has fallen from 19 in 1990 to just 7 in 2014.

The decline in passenger numbers between UK cities and London airports, 2004 - 2014. Image: Civil Airports Authority.

However, with yesterday’s recommendation, the door is now open for the strengthening of the UK’s domestic air connections. This could, the Let Britain Fly report argues, stimulate tourism, trade and exports, foreign direct investment and other vital sectors in the UK’s regions and nations. In doing so, it could be an important tool in rebalancing the national economy.

The general public understands the need to expand our airports is one of strategic national importance that affects the economic well-being of the entire country. According to a recent Populus poll, supporters of airport expansion actually outnumber its opponents by a factor of three to one; that rises to a factor of four to one in London.

It also appears that MPs are aware of the decision’s importance. In a recent survey carried out on behalf of the AOA, 91 per cent of MPs agreed – 53 per cent of them strongly – that airports are important economic drivers for the regions where they are based.

With the numbers stacking up, and both the general public and their representatives on side, it is now up to our policymakers to take a swift decision and let Britain fly.

Gavin Hayes is director of Let Britain Fly, the pro-airport expansion campaign initiated by London First.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.