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Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and the sixth busiest in the world. With this in mind, Heathrow has proposed to expand with the addition of a new runway. With a new runway comes a redesign and Heathrow has commissioned 4 leading UK architectural firms to create their vision for a better Heathrow. The designers chosen are Zaha Hadid Architects, Grimshaw, Benoy and HOK. While all vying for top spot, even if they’re chosen as the winning design, the expansion at Heathrow may not go ahead, certainly if Gatwick gets its wish for a new runway and expansion instead. It’s Heathrow vs Gatwick.


Heathrow airport expansion zaha hadid concept

Zaha Hadid’s concept for Terminal 6 and satellite Terminal 6B, from above

Heathrow Redesign

To shape Heathrow’s vision for the future, the architects were asked to push the boundary of what an airport could and should be, by creating bold ideas for a world-class sustainable airport, delivering innovations in passenger service, integrating local communities and showcasing the best of British design. The brief also took into account affordability and flexibility to ensure Heathrow Airport remains adaptable.

“From welcoming Concorde to the landmark Terminals 2 and 5, Heathrow has always been at the heart of showcasing the best of British design and innovation.” – Barry Weekes, Heathrow’s Head of Design


heathrow airport expansion grimshaw concept

Grimshaw’s vision for a seamless transport interchange in terminal

“The visionary concepts are just the start of a dialogue which will fundamentally redefine what an airport is, how it looks and feels, how it interacts with its environment and an increasingly demanding generation of new passengers and importantly enhancing how it connects with the communities around it.”

“Our ambition for expansion is to transform Heathrow once again – building Britain a value for money global gateway at the forefront of sustainable development and innovative design.”


heathrow airport expansion Benoy concept

Benoy’s diagrammatic display of how a sustainable airport of the future would function

The next phase of the design process is geared to further test the architect’s creativity before a final concept designer is chosen in July.

Heathrow Expansion Backlash

Not everyone is excited about Heathrow’s redesign plans though. To mark Heathrow’s 70th birthday earlier this month, anti-third runway campaigners presented the airport with a Mr Noisy book and a toy demolition truck, while releasing ‘No 3rd Runway’ balloons and singing Happy Birthday.

“Heathrow at 70 should not get any larger. We are looking for a better not bigger airport.” – John Stewart, chair of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN)

A dozen MPs, eight town hall leaders and other politicians recently urged Sadiq Khan to do “everything in your power” to stop a third runway from being built at Heathrow by signing a letter organised by Twickenham Tory MP, Tania Mathias. The letter called on Mr Khan to stick to his commitment during the mayoral election to oppose the Heathrow expansion.

“One of the most urgent issues facing London is the devastation that a new runway at Heathrow would pose to the lives of millions of Londoners,” they said.

They also argued that a bigger Heathrow meant more noise blight and would “seriously impact” the health of locals due to air pollution, while being more expansive than the proposed new runway at Gatwick Airport.

two runway Gatwick airport

A two-runway Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport Expansion

Many anti-Heathrow expansion campaigners are calling for a second runway at Gatwick to be built instead of a third at Heathrow and they’re far from alone. Plans for a new runway at Gatwick Airport would spread the economic benefits of a new runway “more evenly” across the country, according to its chief executive, Stewart Wingate.

Gatwick argues that a new runway would have a “dramatically lower” environmental impact, while costing less than expanding Heathrow. Adding it would create 22,000 airport-related jobs by 2050 as well as 120,000 in businesses near the airport.

Gatwick airport expansion new terminal concept

New Gatwick Terminal concept

“Rather than concentrating growth in a corner of west London, Gatwick expansion will spread more evenly the economic benefits which will help deliver regional powerhouses across the UK.” – Stewart Wingate, Chief Executive, Gatwick Airport

He also argued that the air quality around Heathrow is already illegal and can only worsen with a third runway.

“This is a desperate last throw from a project that has repeatedly failed.”

Gatwick also responded to Heathrow’s redesign concept ideas, noting in a news release that “Gatwick remains the only expansion plan that can actually deliver for the UK.”

gatwick gateway

The Gatwick Gateway

Support for Heathrow Expansion

The Airports Commission is backing Heathrow expansion, stating it as the best option to maintain the UK’s status as a global aviation hub. They found that up to £211bn in economic benefits and up to 180,000 jobs across the UK would be created with an expansion of Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye has argued against an expansion at Gatwick instead, stating the Heathrow expansion would create up to 180,000 jobs, compared to a promised 142,000 at Gatwick.

“If Heathrow falls behind, Britain falls behind. That means fewer jobs and less security for families.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has also been urged to back Heathrow expansion by local group, Back Heathrow. Back Heathrow Campaign Director Rob Gray stated “This is a final call for Captain Cameron. The Prime Minister now needs to show real leadership to land Heathrow expansion.”

The Transport Select Committee has also backed the planned expansion at Heathrow, urging the government to stop the “dithering” and approve the third runway. In its third report on Airport Expansion in the South East:

“Expansion at Heathrow offers the greatest economic benefit and would do more to improve connectivity internationally and within the UK.”


Heathrow expansion and redesign HOK concept

HOK’s vision for a sustainable terminal of the future


A Heathrow Spokesperson commented on the Transport Select Committee’s report by stating,

“The real, independent evidence continues to point towards Heathrow. The Transport Committee and the Prime Minister’s Airports Commission have confirmed that an expanded Heathrow will be an economic powerhouse driving jobs creation across the UK and fuelling a boom in British exports.

“Families and businesses across the nation are counting on the Prime Minister to secure Britain’s long term future. Only an expanded Heathrow delivers and now is the time to make it happen.”


See also:

How to Get from Heathrow Airport to Central London

How to Get from Central London to Heathrow Airport

How to Get from Heathrow Airport to Gatwick Airport



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