Coffee House

Airport wars: Heathrow and Gatwick argue about who offers the most benefits

13 May 2014

Gatwick or Heathrow, who will triumph in the battle of the airports? Both sides have submitted more detailed proposals to the Airports Commission today, setting out why they are the right choice for expanding the UK’s airport capacity. While Boris Island appears to be mostly sidelined, the battle is looking to be between a second runway at Gatwick and a third (or possibly extending the second) runway at Heathrow.

In the revised proposals, Heathrow has increased its compensation fund for the effected 750 homeowners to £550 million, while Gatwick argues its expansion would be cheaper, more beneficial and have a lesser environmental impact — 14,000 people vs 250,000 for Heathrow.

On the Today programme, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye argued that adding a third runway to Heathrow would result in a £100 billion boost for the British economy — not just for London and the South East — and most effectively aid the country’s growth.


Stewart Wingate, the CEO of Gatwick, said that as well as increasing capacity, a Gatwick expansion would ‘achieve a more competitive airport market’, which he claimed would also have wider benefits for the result of the UK. What does Gatwick think about Heathrow’s plans? As well as an additional £40 billion of benefits to the economy, Wingate thinks that expanding Heathrow can’t be delivered because it is too politically toxic:

‘A runway at Gatwick will be deliverable. After decades of dither and dather, it’s important that this time around that we actually come up with a solution that will be delivered and will result in a runway being built.’

Heathrow’s Holland-Kaye on the other hand doesn’t think Gatwick is the most effective way of expanding our aviation capacity or helping the UK compete in the so-called global race:

‘Heathrow and Gatwick are different airports. Heathrow is a hub. It serves network areas accessing long haul routes and those are the routes we need to access global growth in the next 40 years. That’s why we should be building on the strength of Heathrow rather than not waste the huge advantage we have. The competition here is not between Gatwick and Heathrow; it is between Britain, France and Germany.’

Whichever option the Airports Commission recommends in 2015 (after the general election), it will create a headache in Westminster over how palatable it is for voters. Heathrow expansion is a sore point for David Cameron, who was traditionally set against the idea yet has softened his views of late. Swathes of his own party, including Boris and Zac Goldsmith, are totally set against a third runway.

Nick Clegg has ruled out supporting a Heathrow third runway but has expressed an interest in the Gatwick option. Ed Miliband on the other hand has dropped his opposition to Heathrow, leaving the door open for Labour to support expanding Heathrow, again. Will the parties address aviation at all in their manifestos? Chances are they’ll take the opportunity to leave it in the electoral long grass until they’ve crossed the 2015 finishing line.

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  • sonali joshi


    Great post thanks for info!

    Heathrow airport transfers

  • richardvine

    Build a 3rd runway at Heathrow, a 2nd runway at Gatwick and link the two airports by rail enabling passengers to transfer without having to clear immigration. Only then will we have a hub to satisfy the needs of this century. It’s ridiculous having to apply for a UK visa when all you want to do is connect to a flight to Faro.

  • Bonkim

    We should reduce flights overall – not increase.

    Energy resources are unlikely to be free-flowing at present rates of depletion for too long. The sooner mankind realises tomorrow is bleak the better.

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    How about manchester and Birmingham? How about enticing businesses to invest up north? keep spending down south and people will want to invest there and the vicious cycle continues. THINK LONG TERM

  • andagain

    If history is any guide, the eventual decision will give both sides some of what they want, and put a stop to both plans.

  • starfish

    Obvious question. Why must the model be hub. Why can a hub only be at Heathrow? Why “upgrade” an airport with creaking transport links that impinge on most of south east England?

    Simple assertion is not good enough. We have had enough of that with HS2

  • RavenRandom

    Here’s a thing; do both. We’ll need both.

  • dalai guevara

    It has been pointed out many times that there are no long-term aviation capacity issues in the Greater London area. All the arguments for/against hinge on the debate whether hub concepts had a future. What we have discovered during that debate is the fact that our existing interconnective infrastructure is in fact underperforming. We have also found that we do not have second city airports the size of airports in Italy or Germany.

    Best results are achieved by not implementing a ‘star’ diagram but that of a ‘web’. Best results are not achieved by further centralising, they are achieved by decentralising.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      Exactly! But London is a damaging virus. Make no bones about it.

  • Rob Gray

    Not sure “swathes of the Conservative Party” are set against Heathrow expansion.
    Only 700 people turned out for Boris and Zac’s last anti-Heathrow rally. For the past 10 years or more, a vocal minority of anti-expansion protestors have peddled the myth that the world will end if Heathrow gets another runway and that any support for Heathrow growth will cost votes. Unfortunately for them, the reality is now dawning for politicians and the majority of local residents.

    Regular independent polling over the last few years show time and time again that there is a majority of support among local residents for growth at Heathrow. Of course, ‘No’ always shouts louder than ‘Yes’ – even if the former is outnumbered.

    Before the last General Election it was predicted that 12 MPs’ seats could change hands because of Heathrow. Not one did.

    After previous protests by Climate Camp protestors, the leaders of the anti-runway movement admitted that they had difficulty getting west London residents out in numbers against their local airport. Of course, there are concerns about noise and air pollution that must be addressed but the true picture of local opinion is only just being acknowledged by party strategists.

    Seasoned anti-expansion protestors often say ‘we don’t want the airport to close’ but they rarely have a positive word for Heathrow, an asset which provides livelihoods for thousands of local families and is crucial to the success of west London and the UK. Given the choice, the airport’s strongest critics would happily see the UK’s hub airport go elsewhere. In fact, by saying ‘No’ to Heathrow growth, they are already saying ‘Yes’ to long-term decline.

    Rob Gray, Campaign Director, Back Heathrow

    • HookesLaw

      The M25 is a bad enough mess as it is without another runway and more flights from Heathrow. Its not just the residents who might complain.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Does Heathrow currently operate within pollution limits?

  • Alexsandr

    No discussion of expanding birmibngham, E mids,or Manchester then
    the south east bubble lot seem to think we all want to fly from London. I hate the journey to heathrow and refuse to use Gatwick as its too small.

    • rtj1211

      At the moment, the remit is SE aviation capacity.

      National aviation capacity is another sinecure…….

    • Bert3000

      Spot on. This is two awful airports, both in totally the wrong place, arguing about which is worse. The SE wouldn’t need so much capacity if we didn’t force people to travel the length of the country to get a flight.

    • IainRMuir

      Manchester already has two runways, same as Heathrow, one more than Gatwick.

      • Lucy Sky Diamonds

        It needs updating

    • you_kid

      M/C Airport City – 800 million quid investment.
      The B’ham runway extension.
      Game changers indeed.

      • Alexsandr

        see you have editied out the crack about my home counties bubble. pity I am midlands based

        anyroad, there was a plan long ago (1971)to build a new airport at cubbington neat leighton buzzard but they didnt do it.

        • you_kid

          I misread your comment first time round. Must have been the excitement, that is why the Home Counties no longer feature. Apologies for that.

          • Alexsandr

            no worries. but do look up the plans for the cublington airport. and the roskill commission.

            • you_kid

              Are you implying the ’71 plans had a future?

              • Alexsandr

                no. just funny how thingscome round again. another idea was an airport at foulness. sounds like boris island.

      • Lucy Sky Diamonds

        What about the additional infrastructure that will give the north a fighting chance in terms of attracting investment against London?

      • Bonkim

        The Chinese are planning a railway to the US through Siberia and Alaska. Why not ban air travel altogether.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      My last experience at Gatwick was a living nightmare.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Or Stanstead. Not a bad place to use at all.

      • Alexsandr

        god I hate stanstead. the rail link from the midlands is dire and slow and a long way round and expensive, and the A14 is an awful road.

        • monty61

          Stansted is the pits, miles from anywhere.

        • Hexhamgeezer

          But if you live at the end of the M11 its a dream – and quicker to get to from E17 than London City, which is an @rse to get to even from E London

    • monty61

      Brum? Don’t they have an airport already?

      And what happened to plans to use Northolt as Heathrow’s third runway? it’s only 5 miles up the road, a crossrail style dig to connect the two could be done in no time.

      • Alexsandr

        you don’t need a new line. Ruislip-Greenford-ealing-heathrow is there now. OK would need electrifying and maybe some tart up but a lot cheaper than a load of tunnelling.

  • Altocumulus

    Next time you fly into Gatwick, count how many houses you fly over on final approach. Hardly any – it’s mainly cows. A second runway there would be vastly preferable to an extra runaway at Heathrow, where hundreds of thousands are subject to horrendous levels of aircraft noise every day.
    And I speak as someone living under the Gatwick flightpath.

  • swatnan

    I think Gatwick has it. Let the people of Sussex suffer and give a bit of relief to Hounslow.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Didn’t the political establishment decide that airports weren’t a strategic asset, as such flogged them off, and were happy to see Heathrow passed into the ownership of a Spanish property company?

    As airports are not a strategic asset, whether Heathrow or Gatwick gets its additional runway is purely a commercial matter, and a matter between them and the local residents . If they can come to terms with the local population and pay them sufficient compensation to overfly their homes, then they can build their runways

    The thing is, these commercial operations want to get the state to confiscate peoples property rights in order for them to exploit it. They pretend to be a commercial operation where profit generation is concerned, but then pretend to be a quasi state asset when they want the state to confiscate peoples properties.

    If politicians want to expand Heathrow or Gatwick using the argument that it is national infrastructure, then they should be brought back into public ownership, then the state would have the right to confiscate peoples property rights for the good of the country. But it is wholly unacceptable to use this argument for the benefit of a Spanish property company or American investors balance sheet.

    So what is Heathrow or Gatwick, private companies or a national infrastructure assets?

    • HookesLaw

      Nope. Thats idiocy. Why should the state or local govt run airports? They can for ‘strategic’ reasons of course determine where they are built.

      • Blindsideflanker

        Why should a private commercial operation deny people of their living environment and property rights?

        If an airport is a private concern it should be able to pay its own way, and not have the state nurse maid it.

      • Lucy Sky Diamonds

        Everyones opinion is idiocy according to your nasty self.

        Ever sat down and thought about the notion that actually, it might be you in the wrong, even just sometimes?

        Narcissism at its worst. Sorry to say it, but it is about time someone said it to you on these forums.

        I have been reading the coffeehouse for a long time without posting, but reading your b*tchiness every time you post something just does my (and other peoples) head in and it is about time someone told you to show some manners.

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