The proposed scheme, which was approved by cabinet ministers at a committee meeting today, will see an additional runway and a sixth terminal being built. A parliamentary vote on the £17.6bn expansion will take place in 2017 or 2018, and is due to pave the way for hundreds of thousands more flights to take off and land each year at the London-based airport.
Reasons given by the government for choosing Heathrow include the opportunity to boost trade and create jobs, as well as offering a greater choice of airlines, destinations and flights. Other options had included an additional runway at Gatwick or an expansion to one of Heathrow’s existing runways. These schemes have now been rejected.
Leigh Butterfield, director at DMC 2B UK, said that as London is a growing city, it needs to be able to cope with the increasing demand. "I think for the events industry, the expansion will be a good thing. Other capitals and destinations across the world have been able to accept larger congresses and conferences, just because they have the infrastructure to cope. London has been slightly restricted as we’re at capacity, but hopefully that will change now."
She added that she hopes the expansion will lead to an increase in the volume of flights, which could potentially drive down prices.
Vice chairman of BVEP, Simon Hughes, said the wait for the parliamentary vote was too long. "I think it’s fantastic that a decision has finally been made. It’s something we’ve been campaigning for. However, I am concerned about the time it will take for the project to actually get off the ground. Post-Brexit we need to be focussed on improving our links with international organisations and growing business partnerships. I am concerned that it will take a long time before anything concrete is delivered."
He added that a BVEP survey, due to be released next week, shows that the UK"s lack of infrastructure is one of the key concerns for the events industry.
Nick de Bois, chairman of the Events Industry Board, pointed out that the expansion could lead to further opportunities for growth. "Airport capacity and hub expansions are crucial for Britain’s continued economic success and more bringing more visitors into Britain. With such a big infrastructure project taking place, it could also be a good time to explore a new conference and exhibition centre, that can compete with the best in the world."
He added that he was also concerned about potential legal challenges and delays, which would lead to a slowdown in the project.
Some agencies argued that other UK destinations should not be ignored, as a result of the decision. "The development to Heathrow airport is going to have a direct impact on flight bookings, and it should open up more jobs, flights and destinations, which is a huge positive for the industry," said Dale Parmenter, Group CEO of drp. "However, there has been a lot of concentration on London, and developing the airports there. In the future, investments should be directed towards Birmingham, as the second biggest city in the UK, or Manchester, rather than London. With the HS2, future train journeys from London to Birmingham may only last 30-50 mins, which is the same amount of time as travelling to Heathrow from central London."
• For more breaking news and in-depth features, sign up to C&IT Magazine's daily Newstracker here