What are the pros and cons of a third runway at Heathrow?

Following years of indecision a recommendation was finally made this week on the best route to increase the UK’s aviation capacity. Sir Howard Davies and four other members of the Airports Commission unanimously decided that the best option was to add a third runway to the north-west of Heathrow’s current pair.

But difference of opinion in the Conservative Party and opposition from the public means the argument could still rage on for some time. With that in mind, we’ve looked at some of the pros and cons of the recommendation to expand Heathrow.


Economic Boost – Local businesses are rejoicing at the decision to expand Heathrow, due to the predicted boon for the area. There will be around 250,000 flights a year and £150bn added to GDP.

Sir Howard Davies said: “Heathrow is best placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long-haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.”

Commercial Property – The decision to expand Heathrow has been welcomed with open arms by those in the commercial property industry. Below are some of the comments from industry professionals.

Miles Gibson, head of UK research at CBRE: “This announcement represents excellent news, with particular potential for retail, offices, logistics facilities and hotels to benefit.”

David Sleath, Chief Executive of Segro, said: “The government needs to bring an end to the indecision and back the recommendation and let Heathrow get on with building the new runway as quickly as possible.”

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive of the British Property Foundation: “We live in a competitive and fast moving world, where speed of decision-making provides countries with a competitive edge.”

Cost Effective – Billed at £18bn, the expansion provides the best value for money option. Heathrow already has good transport links, as well as existing infrastructure and staff, with the expansion set to create thousands of jobs and cement Heathrow’s place as one of the world’s busiest airports.

Best Available Option – With the Boris Johnson championed Thames estuary airport dismissed and the idea for a second runaway at Gatwick put to one side, expanding Heathrow to the north-west looks like the best available option. Some quarters have called it best short-term solution to ensuring Britain keeps up with Europe’s other major airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle.


Environment – Despite the potential economic benefits, the expansion would still see Heathrow become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country. Environmentalists are up-in-arms at the decision and will likely not be swayed by the report’s suggestions for severe restrictions to reduce pollution in a location already with high levels of air and noise pollution.

Demolition of Homes – 800 homes are planned to be demolished as part of the plans, with the village of Harmondsworth expected to be largely flattened to make way for the runway. Community leaders there are not happy, while the additional runway will mean over 700,000 homes will live under a flight path in the high density location surrounding the airport.

Exaggerated Benefits – Some have played down the economic benefit of the expansion, while others believe the UK doesn’t need another runway at all and would do better to make use of current space. The Aviation Environment Federation said the UK’s airport crisis is a myth, while environmentalists Friends of the Earth argue that “the overall business case for further expansion is just not convincing” or “compatible with meeting our climate change targets.”

Political Uncertainty – David Cameron faces a tough decision over Heathrow. He himself was strongly opposed in 2010 and members of his own party, Theresa May, Zac Goldsmith and Phillip Hammond to name a few, are against the idea. Boris Johnson even threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers. But business are backing it and the Airport Commission, put together by Cameron is recommending it.  Will Cameron risk the unity of his party for the third runway?

Extra capacity is planned to be completed between 2025 and 2029, but with many still opposed to the plans, the expansion could still face a troubled time ahead.

What are your thoughts on the proposed expansion of Heathrow? Let us know by leaving a comment below