While using Heathrow isn’t always a pleasant experience, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the airport can’t be made better or that it is in the wrong place. If Heathrow were to close it would be the largest airport ever to be shut down and replaced. Building new airports and runways requires new infrastructure and new homes. Heathrow directly employs 5,500 people, but it keeps over 76,500 people in 320 companies in work, the vast majority of these are either within or close to the airport. Are we prepared to build the equivalent of a new town to re-house, provide new schools, leisure facilities and the rest, at the same time as the new airport?
Expanding Stansted or a new Thames Estuary airport could accommodate more flights, including night flights, and faster train links could be provided, although at some cost. None of this is impossible but does it make enough sense? Who wants to get off a plane in Stansted or the Thames Estuary at 4 a.m.?
In my view, it can’t be solely an architectural vision but instead a broader urban design idea for the development of an airport city for London. It is the urban planners (Schipol Airport has had its own urban planner for many years), geographers, economists and urbanists that need to be engaged not just architects and engineers. We might be grateful to these architects for promoting debate, but let’s work out the trickier question of what is really needed first, then where it should go and finally what it might look like.