How will Boris Johnson’s plans for Heathrow affect the job market?

Boris Johnson

Heathrow should be bought by the Government, bulldozed and turned into a new London borough for 250,000 people, according to Boris Johnson as the debate over airport expansion intensifies. The Mayor of London has been heavily criticised after outlining plans to convert the UK’s biggest airport into a residential area to make way for a four-runway hub to the east of London.

The Mayor’s proposals are part of a submission to the Airports Commission, the body set up by the Government to draw up options for increased aviation capacity. But at what cost would these new plans come? If Heathrow itself and others are to be believed, that cost would be in excess of 100,000 jobs. This would mean Boris could well see himself go down in history as having overseen the biggest jobs cull since the pit closures of 1985 saw job losses in the region of 30,000.

Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews said the London Mayor’s push for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary would put as many as 114,000 staff at risk. Matthews said that his 76,000 staff and the other 38,000 workers who rely on Heathrow for their livings would be axed or forced to relocate.

So is it really worth sacrificing over 100,000 jobs to build a new airport to help the economy, bearing in mind it won’t be ready until 2030?

Dale Keller, chief executive of Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) in the UK, says not. “We believe the impact extends far beyond just those jobs,” he explains. “The economy can be safeguarded at less cost and far less risk by developing the successful asset we have and through engagement with communities to lessen environmental impacts.”

Keller continues: “Could the new airport actually create jobs? Virtually the same number of total jobs will be required for an equivalent sized operation regardless of where it is located. There are also likely to be more construction jobs required to build a new airport, but it doesn’t seem feasible to be financed by airlines and their customers. So who pays?”

Keller and BAR believe it would be a better idea for not only the staff but also the UK economy to build an extra two runways at Heathrow rather than a completely new airport.

“Only one additional runway is needed at Heathrow for at least another generation – a fourth could be built at a much later stage if it is ever needed. This is the lower risk and lower cost approach which would involve far less disruption to the UK economy,” he says.

And what does it all mean for the jobs market?

“Airlines and airports are labour intensive operations with quality jobs in almost every category; from engineering and flight crew to hotel and restaurant staff,” says Keller. “Protecting the UK’s hub status and keeping Heathrow in the premier league keeps these jobs in the UK rather than risking losing them to overseas mega hub airports by attempting to create a new airport and hoping it takes Heathrow’s place.”

In reality, Boris’ plans may well see the creation of more jobs over the other side of the capital, but the airport is a major employer in the West London region and the fact that a number of businesses will be based in the area purely because of its proximity to the airport, means the figure could well be much higher than the 100,000 currently being bandied around. This could have a devastating affect on the jobs market in the local area even if new businesses are encouraged into any new development. Even the Commons Transport Committee has said that closing Heathrow would have “unacceptable consequences” for West London.

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