Heathrow has a third runway almost ready and waiting… It’s been operational since 1915. It lies just 10 km north of Heathrow Central, almost immediately south of the High Speed Train route planned to Birmingham and the North, and it’s on the Central Line and the A40 (virtually a motorway which becomes the M40). Of course, this is RAF Northolt.
Northolt’s runway is currently 1687m long- already longer than London City’s 1080m. The scrapped Heathrow Third Runway would have been 2200m long so getting that length would involve merely another 500m.
This could be built westwards by burying the A40- and the trench dug for it would also make easier to build a final length of rail connection for a fast line between Heathrow Central and Northolt. This rail line already exists in part, namely the spur line from Paddington that carries the Heathrow Express and will carry Crossrail. I imagine the transfer times between Heathrow Central and Northolt could be minutes, comparable at any rate to walking times between terminals and departure gates.
Naturally residents of Northolt may not be too happy about this idea. They already experience air movements above them but their quantity would be much bigger. But it’s hardly a quiet rural village.
In considering alternative plans like ‘Boris Island‘ or the Foster+Partners and Halcrow planned Isle of Grain airport as a hub to replace Heathrow, there are major environmental issues to do with wetlands and birdlife, and (some say) safety issues with the latter because of power stations and oil depots. There is also the issue of West London’s economic prosperity. Rightly, planning policies have focused development in East London, but much of West London depends on Heathrow. For example, the business corridor in Brentford, the hotel trade in Kensington and Hammersmith and (not least) the huge employment generated for residents of Southall and elsewhere should not be ignored. East London slumped because when the docks and industry moved out there was no plan to replace them. Replacing Heathrow with a brand new airport would have serious impact on West London.
So- why not turn Northolt into Heathrow North?
(Originally posted as a comment to The Economist’s 02/11/2011 posting ‘Heathrow: An argument that will not die down‘, minor amendments made)