After years of uncertainty over the future of the UK’s London airports – with other alternatives proposed including expansion of Gatwick, or creating a new airport in east London – the Government today approved plans for a third runway at Heathrow.
Reports suggest that should all plans go ahead, the new runway will open in 2025, and welcome up to 260,000 more flights a year, up from the current 480,000 for a total of 740,000 annually.
Hospitality associations have welcomed the decision, saying that it proves that Britain is open to visitors and tourism, and would help drive up the country’s growth, especially in light of uncertainty over the future of Brexit.
“The UK is open”
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) said: “We welcome the Government’s decision on airport expansion at Heathrow. The challenge from other European hub-airports vying to replace Heathrow is serious, especially once the United Kingdom has left the European Union.
“This decision demonstrates that the UK is open to visitors and investment from across the globe, and will also allow space for domestic air links to support regional tourism right across the country.”
Deirdre Wells OBE, chief executive of UKinbound, which claims to represent over 370 UK tourism business, said: “UKinbound is delighted that a decision has been made by the Government and that the building of a new runway at London Heathrow will now move forward. 71% of inbound visitors fly to this country and the expansion of our global gateway - London Heathrow, is crucial to the UK’s future growth.”
Wells also called for fast development of the runway, and said that the possibility of “a second runway at London Gatwick not be dismissed in the long-term”.
UKinbound and VisitBritain both estimated that overseas visitor spending in the UK accounted for £22billion in export earnings, with Wells reiterating the importance of tourism to the UK as its “third biggest employer”.
Sally Balcombe, chief executive of the tourist board VisitBritain/VisitEngland, also welcomed the runway decision.
She said: “We are very pleased to see this decision today. Inbound tourism is one of our fastest growing export industries and increasing runway capacity is crucial to Britain remaining globally competitive as a world-class visitor destination. It is also critical to increase connectivity to growth markets that are so important for our future such as China, ensuring that the economic benefits of tourism are shared across our nations and regions.”
VisitBritain added that inbound tourism is today worth more than £26 billion to the UK economy.
Operators have also commented on the decision.
Inderneel Singh, managing director at Edwardian Hotels London, said:“We have supported the expansion of Heathrow airport for a long time. For us, it is vital that the UK continues to increase its attractiveness as a destination for tourist and international business visitors. For our hospitality business, this is crucial. We want to see more guests visiting us from Asia and North America in the very near future. Heathrow was always the obvious choice for expansion, not only because millions of visitors to Britain already fly there and it has strong relationships with key airlines, but also because of the excellent transport links and existing infrastructure provisions...The UK will benefit significantly from this decision. It is even more important today, post-Brexit, that the country competes with other major European and global cities when it comes to aviation opportunities.”
To be confirmed
However, despite positive reactions from some, the runway is still reportedly not a definite deal, with plans still needing to be approved legally to become binding, pending almost-certain challenges from several groups, including the councils of Richmond, Wandworth, Hillingdon and Windsor and Maidenhead, who have so far teamed up to pledge a legal contest against the decision.