Analysis: Mersey welcome for Heathrow 3rd runway revival

Analysis: Plans for a third runway at Heathrow are being revived and have the potential to have a significant positive economic knock-on effect for Liverpool city region. Tony McDonough reports

An aircraft coming into land at Heathrow Airport. Picture by Heathrow Airport


In February 2020 the Court of Appeal struck down the Government’s approval for a £14bn third runway at Heathrow Airport.

In its ruling the court said the Government did not adequately take into account the UK’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement. Weeks later the COVID pandemic hit and the project seemed to be dead and buried.

However, post-COVID the aviation sector has come roaring back. This year Heathrow expects to handle a record 82.4m passengers. The issue of its strained capacity is once again on the agenda.

In February this year the Sunday Time speculated the third runway plan would not return. But this was swiftly refuted by the airport, which said: “We’re operating almost at capacity which limits the UK’s economic potential.”

And in the last few days Heathrow’s chief financial officer, Javier Echave, confirmed it was looking to make a decision on the project “as fast as we can”.

“As you can see we are getting more and more full and therefore we are looking at when is the right time to really restart the programme,” he added.

“…This is a decision that we can’t rush, it’s an important and complex decision and therefore we will get into that as fast as we can.”

This news has had ears twitching here in Liverpool city region where the original third runway plans were seen as offering huge economic potential. There were two main reasons for this enthusiasm.

Firstly, to get Government onside Heathrow had promised a sweetener for the UK regions – a £10m fund to support air routes for the regions. A recent cut to Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights makes it that bit more attractive.

A hub link with Heathrow, and its almost unrivalled global connectivity, has long been the Holy Grail for Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA). There was a link between the two via British Midland in the late 1980s.

In the past couple of years LJLA has secured valuable hub links with Frankfurt, via Lufthansa, and with Aer Lingus via Dublin, which offers onward connections to key North American destinations.

Nevertheless, a direct connection with the world’s premier aviation hub here in the UK would still be seen as a valuable prize. LJLA has also seen a resurgence in passenger numbers post-COVID and is keen to maximise its potential.

LBN understands LJLA remains supportive of the third runway plan on condition the commitment to access to value landing slots for regional domestic air routes remains firmly part of the expansion plan and “doesn’t just benefit the South East”.


Heathrow expects to handle a record 82.4m passengers in 2024. Picture by David Dyson
Liverpool John Lennon Airport
Liverpool John Lennon Airport could benefit from a Heathrow link. Picture by Active Digital


Labour’s Steve Rotheram is hot favourite to win a third term as Metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region. In his manifesto, he is pledging to deliver a 25% increase in foreign direct investment.

In particular Mr Rotheram is looking to leverage the potential of Liverpool’s growing life sciences sector as well as attracting investment into the new Liverpool City Region Freeport. A direct link with Heathrow could turbo-charge both.

Frank McKenna, chief executive of Liverpool-based business lobby group, Downtown in Business, has long been a supporter of the third runway. He remains broadly supportive but also urges a wider conversation around Levelling Up.

He told LBN: “I think it needs to be reviewed in the context of the way travel has changed and around net zero. And we also need to ask ‘does everything need to go to London?’

“Do we want to see a third runway at Heathrow or should we look at locations elsewhere in the country and ask if we could build a new international airport, or extend an existing one. There may be a bigger conversation about where that extra capacity goes.

“I was very supportive of the idea of a third runway. Aviation is growing. Yes, we have to be mindful of net zero but the aviation sector would argue it is investing heavily in decarbonisation.

“It is definitely something that we should look actively at. The country needs big ambitious infrastructure projects. We do need additional capacity and if Heathrow is the choice then we do need to support it.

“Better connectivity from the regions to Heathrow brings its own opportunities. A lot of the preparation work has already been done so there is a plan ready. So generally we are supportive but with the caveat that we need to make sure it fully benefits the regions.”

Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Cherpeau said Heathrow’s role as the UK’s international hub airport is a vital economic asset to the UK’s businesses, enabling the movement of people and freight to and from multiple global destinations.

He added: “The continued expansion of Heathrow and the potential development of a third runway must be considered in the wider context of how it can enable growth and a rebalancing of our national economy.

“Better integrated and direct connections with UK regional airports such as LJLA, alongside improvements in surface access and environmental impact – most notably through the development of sustainable aviation fuel – would substantially enhance the positive impact that airport expansion could have on our region.”

Any bid to revive the Heathrow runway plan is certain to be met with opposition from people who insist it is incompatible with the UK’s commitment to net zero.

That argument is a strong one but the counter is that aviation accounts for little more than 2.5% of all human carbon emissions. There is also merit in the argument that if Heathrow doesn’t expand the airlines will simply go somewhere else.


Frank McKenna, chief executive of Downtown in Business. Picture by Tony McDonough
Paul Cherpeau
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. Picture by Gareth Jones


Building a new runway at Heathrow would be a huge undertaking and, before the plans were halted in 2020, a massive supply chain was being assembled that was designed to benefit firms across the UK.

In 2018 Birkenhead shipyard and engineering business Cammell Laird put its hat in the ring to provide pre-assembly facilities. It secured a place on a 65-strong UK-wide shortlist, along with the Port of Liverpool, from which four locations were to be selected.

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A high-level delegation from Heathrow visited Cammell Laird to take a closer look at the two sites the company put forward – Campbeltown Road and the MEA Park Wirral Waters in Beaufort Road.

It seems likely that if the third runway project was to be fully revived then companies in Liverpool city region would be ready and willing to grab a slice of the work.

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