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The global economy, coronavirus and Heathrow

March 1, 2020

The decision by the UK Appeal Court to block development of a third runway at London Heathrow may at first sight have little to do with coronavirus. But in fact, are we starting to see a convergence of forces that will fundamentally reshape social values and the global economy?

Much is being written about the extent to which the Heathrow decision undermines Britain’s claims to being at the forefront of the global economy. But in fact, the reverse may very well be true. Does the UK actually need this expansion and, if so, does it need to be at Heathrow?

Fundamental questions

As coronavirus proves, ’the environment’ is about much more than our physical surroundings. This, together with the growing urgency of reducing climate change, potentially represent ground breaking shifts in public opinion and behavior. Among them will be a review of existing supply chains and a questioning of the need for so much travel.

One possible consequence is that capacity increases at Heathrow will quite simply be unnecessary and the Appeal Court may have saved the UK from major disruption and expense. But even if extra capacity is needed, the push for economic regeneration outside London suggests Heathrow is the last place it should be built. What about Birmingham, to take advantage of the investment in high speed rail? In fact, anywhere but the already congested and transport constrained South East of England.

Events sometimes move fast and in unexpected directions. They offer opportunities to step back and think in fundamentally different ways. It may be that we are at this juncture right now – and it points to the need for critical reassessment of major commercial decisions and the core framework of today’s patterns and methods of trade.

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