Interview: Phil Wilbraham from Heathrow Airport

Thu 18 October 2018, 9:02 am

Ahead of the first ever WOW London conference on 22 November in Slough, we sat down with Heathrow's expansion programme director Phil Wilbraham, to discuss how the airport will contribute to growth in West London and the Thames Valley.

Can you say something about your role and responsibilities at Heathrow?

As expansion programme director, I am accountable for delivering Heathrow’s new runway along with all the infrastructure to support it. Before this role, I was accountable for the delivery of the airport’s new Terminal 2 – a £2.5 billion programme which has provided passengers with a new state-of-the-art terminal, and we are proud that it was named as World’s Best Airport Terminal at last year’s Skytrax awards.

Construction of a third runway was recently approved by parliament. What are the growth opportunities a third runway will bring to West London and the Thames Valley?

Heathrow is a truly national infrastructure project, and will create benefits spread across the UK during construction and when the new runway is operational. But there is no denying the massive growth potential for London and the south-east. During construction, we’ll need a robust and diverse supply chain, and we want to use this opportunity to build up the experience and the profile of SMEs. Our Heathrow Business Summit programme, which we have run for over 20 years at the airport, is a key way for SMEs from all across west London and the Thames Valley to be able to connect with our largest suppliers and win business at the airport, so I would encourage businesses to sign up and get involved.

Aside from contracts, expansion is a unique opportunity to equip the UK with a legacy of skills for generations to come, and will mean 10,000 apprenticeships over the life of the project. To make sure we’re using this opportunity to boost social mobility and create sustainable careers, not just jobs, we asked former secretary of state for education and employment, Lord David Blunkett to chair an independent skills taskforce. He united experts from across education, local government, unions, voluntary and private sectors, and they recently published a series of recommendations for us to consider, including the creation of targets and practical actions for us, our commercial partners and our supply chain to implement. The Taskforce’s report was a crucial step in maximising opportunities, and we will respond to these recommendations in early 2019.

We are on track for our new runway to open in 2026, and once this new capacity is released, growth from trade will be transformational. Expansion will mean up to 40 new direct long-haul routes, and doubling of our cargo capacity. Heathrow, and therefore West London and the Thames Valley, will be connected to exciting new international markets which we are cut off from today. This will be a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes to make the most of improved connectivity, and get British goods out to new markets across the globe.

There is still a lot of opposition to construction of a third runway, especially from local communities. How will these communities be included in the process in the coming years? What can be done to address concerns they have?

Expansion is not a choice between the economy and the environment; it will deliver for both, and we are committed to deliver this project responsibly and sustainably. Local polling since 2015 has consistently shown that more local people support expansion than oppose it, and we will continue to work with local partners at each stage of the journey to manage and mitigate the impacts of our growth, and maximise the opportunities for those who live closest.

We are ensuring communities are at the heart of our plans through continuous engagement and consultation. In early 2018, during our first planning consultation on expansion, thousands of people in the communities surrounding Heathrow attended 40 exhibition events, and provided valuable feedback on options to deliver and operate an expanded airport, alongside principles of new airspace design. The feedback is helping us shape our plans, and we have had ongoing engagement since the consultation with key local stakeholders including local authorities and the Heathrow Community Engagement Board, which was set up to represent communities and hold us to account.

As we move towards a preferred masterplan, we will hold two further consultations to seek feedback in 2019. The first in January is our Airspace and Operations consultation which will seek feedback on future airspace design envelopes and how we will operate a three-runway airport. In June, we will hold our Airport Expansion consultation, which will show our preferred scheme for airport expansion and ask for views from our local communities. We will again assess the feedback captured and feed this into our proposals, before finalising our plans and submitting our Development Consent Order (DCO) application in 2020.

What are some of the key obstacles that will need to be overcome to deliver a third runway?

We are confident in our plans and are on track to deliver Britain’s new runway in 2026 – but it goes without saying that infrastructure projects of this size will always have complexities that we will need to work through. You may have read recently about the judicial review proceedings; in parallel with the ongoing development consent process, Heathrow will continue to participate in the judicial review proceedings relating to the Airports National Policy Statement – the hearing of which has now been set for March 2019. Securing consent for large-scale infrastructure projects of this size often involves judicial review and we remain fully confident that the government’s decision-making process was robust. This summer, the Airports National Policy Statement was overwhelmingly approved by a significant cross-party majority in parliament, and to date, there have been no successful challenges against the designation of a National Policy Statement.

Aside from this, one of our key challenges will be designing an airport fit for the needs of future passengers. How can our plans reflect the passenger journeys that will be made in 2026 and beyond, and embrace innovation and new technology while driving savings and efficiencies? We’re one of the country’s most experienced infrastructure investors - over the last decade we’ve spent £11 billion on Terminal 2 and Terminal 5, both delivered on time and on budget. But expansion is so much more than building a new runway and terminal capacity, and we know we don’t have all the answers or ideas. This is why we’ve set up the Innovation Partners Programme.

The programme is our way of encouraging potential partners to share their ideas about how to deliver expansion sustainably, affordably, and innovatively, and how we can meet our promises to the environment, our neighbours, and the whole of the UK. The appetite from businesses up and down the country to get involved was extremely positive. We received over 150 submissions in the first round, over 86% of which came from outside our current supply chain. Last month, we announced a longlist of 37 businesses that have progressed to the next phase. Ideas range from efficient cargo management systems to state-of-the-art IT programmes, and come from a wide range of sectors. We are really looking forward to the next stage of business pitches.

Why are you speaking at the WOW London conference?

I’m thrilled to be joining the line-up at WOW London conference. Heathrow is proud of our west London location and the part we play in the local area, and I look forward to sharing our latest updates on expansion, as well as discussing with other attendees about how we can boost growth and opportunity in London and the Thames Valley.

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