London elects: What will a new mayor mean for Heathrow Airport?

Heathrow from, well, the air. Image: Getty.

With Heathrow already operating at 98 per cent capacity, airport expansion will be one of the biggest issues facing the next mayor of London. Whoever is elected to the position won’t have the final say – that power lies with the UK government – but their opinion carries the weight of the largest electoral mandate of any UK politician. Given that neither of the two main contenders – Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives' Zac Goldsmith – support the expansion of Heathrow airport, both will need to think carefully about how they’d like to address the problem.

Airport capacity has been an issue in London at least since the government initiated a consultation in 2000. In 2012, the government set up the Airports Commission to evaluate the evidence on the matter and propose a way forward. The commission rejected outgoing mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for a whole new airport in the Thames Estuary as too costly.

Instead, when giving its final report in July 2015, the Airports Commission plumped for an additional runway at Heathrow, believing that noise and air pollution could be adequately mitigated.

Since then, the government has decided that further work was needed to ensure that the environmental impacts of a third runway could be managed – effectively delaying a decision on the proposal until after the mayoral election, and the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

Under pressure

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee later argued that the government should not approve Heathrow expansion unless the project can be reconciled with legal air pollution limits, and would be less noisy than a two-runway airport.

There is a strong demand from business organisations – notably the CBI – for a commitment to Heathrow, and the government has been criticised for flip flopping. Meanwhile, Gatwick Airport has energetically pressed its case for the additional runway to be located there, on grounds of environmental acceptability and lower cost.

The new mayor would make his views felt ahead of the government’s announcement. If the go-ahead is given for Heathrow, the new mayor may also intervene in the public inquiry to address local impacts that would precede the granting of detailed planning consent.

Both the main mayoral candidates are against more runway capacity at Heathrow. Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmth is MP for Richmond and North Kingston – a constituency under Heathrow’s flightpath. As such, he has long campaigned against expansion. Labour’s Sadiq Khan opposes a third runway at Heathrow too. Instead, Khan advocates a second runway at Gatwick, and he has also pledged to improve rail links to Stansted airport.

It would be easier for a Conservative government to resist the opposition of a Labour mayor to a Heathrow expansion. But Conservative MPs for West London constituencies affected by noise and air pollution would put up a vocal challenge to the plans, too.

Alternatively, there is a respectable case for deferring this difficult political decision, to see how a very competitive aviation sector copes with the growth of demand for air travel. As I have suggested previously, market forces could mean that priority would be given to business travellers at Heathrow, displacing leisure travellers to other airports – such as Stansted – which have plenty of spare capacity.The Conversation

David Metz is honorary professor of Transport Studies at UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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.