Airport expansion: 73% of Lib Dem members want to see it – but opinion divided on where it should happen

Airport terminalLib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

37% want London airport expansion; 36% want no-London airport expansion; 21% want no airport expansion

There is currently a discussion about how to expand airport capacity in the UK to meet future demand for air travel. Which one of the following do you think is the best option?

11% – Expand Heathrow airport

16% – Expand one or more of the other existing London airports (e.g. London Gatwick, Luton or Stansted)

10% – Build a new airport in the Thames Estuary to the east of London

36% – Expand other UK airports outside of London/the South East

21% – None of these – I would not like to see any expansion of the UK’s airport capacity

6% – Don’t know

An interesting – and, to me at least, surprising – result. I expected some 40-50% of Lib Dem members to oppose any expansion of the UK’s airport capacity. Yet this survey suggests that is a minority view, held by just 1-in-5 party members.

Among the 3-in-4 Lib Dem members who do support airport expansion, opinion is divided equally. Some 37% favour one of the London/South-East options (either Heathrow, Gatwick or the Thames Estuary) while 36% want to see airports in other parts of the country expanded. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• If we invest more in high speed rail than is proposed now we could kill off internal flights and this capacity could be used for international flights.
• Would be good to give a ranked preference here – I don’t want to see any expansion, but if it happens there are some schemes I’d prefer to others.
• More emphasis needs to placed in regional airports.
• Expand Birmingham – only 38 minutes to central London via HS2.
• We should be looking to reduce internal flights (by improving rail infrastructure – hello HS2 – and maybe electric cars with longer ranges/more charging stations)
• Need to ensure links with Scottish Airports and international flights are protected. I understand the pressure on Heathrow and local people but to ensure it works for all of the UK some other flights might need to move to protect domestic/international connections
• With high speed rail links there are many places in England that would give acceptable journey times to our major cities.
• It seems clear that one of the London airports will need to expand – for political reasons probably not Heathrow.
• we should argue strongly against the idea that aviation expansion is essential to growth. it is not.
• looking at a map, somewhere between Luton & Birmingham, with HS2 linkages would help rebalance the economy from the South East.
• We need better connectivity linking all the airports around London with each other, not just crossing via central London. Gatwick would be a better choice for expansion.
• Phase out overland air journeys under 600Km replacing with (HS) rail. Encourage airlines to link up and invest with rail. Slots would be freed reducing need for extra capacity.
• Luton should become a four runway and hub airport.
• Capacity for air travel should be set by environmental criteria rather than demand-driven ones, and then pricing should be used to restrain demand to the level of the supply.
• Given Heathrow’s location with planes landing/taking off so close to the densely populated areas of London, further expansion a sensible option
• This country needs to think big again. Build Boris Island!!
• Why should everything go to London? Why not expand Glasgow or Manchester instead?
• Build rapid rail transit between LHR and LGW, second runway at LGW and rationalization of flights between the two airports.
• To keep apace with asia we must build capacity for the city business and tourists which to visit – London to help our economy.
• Let’s make a serious attempt to introduce high speed rail to replace domestic flights, to free up capacity for long hall flights at major London Airports. Stansted or the Thames Estuary seem like the most logical sites if more capacity is needed as they offer the most room for expansion in the longer term.
• Expansion is needed. I would be open to all options.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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This entry was posted in LDV Members poll.


  • Charles Rothwell 11th May '14 - 11:48am

    I think the Lib Dems should be at the forefront in doing whatever they can to counter the massive skewing effect which the non-stop expansion of London and the South East is having on the rest of the UK, and England in particular, in economic and other terms. Part of this would be promoting the development of a series of strong, international airports throughout the country which will cater for business (not just chartered holiday) travel. As regards my own area (North of England) I would be very much in favour of diverting HS2 funds (or a good chunk of them) to giving us a really good Hull Liverpool rail service (not least so as to take pressure off the M.62 which is becoming unbearable around Leeds/Bradford and Manchester) and complement this with developing a major international airport on the eastern side of the Pennines to promote international links and travel (in the same way as Germany, say, has many other international airports than just the Frankfurt colossus). We already have Leeds/Bradford and there may be environmental concerns in expanding this further, If so, a major study needs to be launched in full collaboration with local stakeholders (unlike the ramming through of HS2) (ALL four local Labour MPs are still sticking with (have no doubt been ordered to stick with) HS2 even though the local Council of Mary Creagh (Shadow Transport secretary) (Wakefield) has voted against it, as it will not bring the slightest economic benefit to the metropolitan authority area!) (Yet another band wagon for the Kippers to jump on, of course, and emphasise how “the political Establishment” is totally out of touch with the feelings of many local people. This was why I was among the 36% in the poll.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 11th May '14 - 2:25pm

    I think on this issue as on others where two liberal principles seem to collide (here, internationalism and environmentalism) there is a lack of clarity of thought among some in the party.

    The UK does not have, and will not have for some time, an airport capacity problem when it comes to short-haul regional flights.

    We have a capacity problem at Heathrow. And we have a capacity problem at Heathrow because it is our only hub airport. Hub airports don’t compete with other domestic airports but with other hub airports: Schipol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt. Flying in and out of Heathrow is becoming an increasingly unpleasant experience because of a capacity shortage, which does not exist to the same extent at its competitor hubs.

    So the question is not really whether we want or need airport expansion generally but whether we want to maintain an internationally competitive hub airport.

    I think we should, because making it possible to fly from the UK to smaller but increasingly important cities in developing economies will be a big advantage for the UK economically, diplomatically and socially. In short, because I think as internationalists we should want to make it as easy as possible to travel around the world.

    That either means a privately-funded expansion of Heathrow (preferably along the lines proposed by Tim Leunig) or it means a new very expensive partly publicly-funded hub airport elsewhere. Realistically, this can be anywhere as long as it has modern, quick rail links with London.

    The reason I think environmentalism should not trump internationalism and economic good sense is twofold. First, reducing the number of flights from the UK does not reduce the number of flights overall: they will just go from somewhere else. Secondly, and more significantly, aeroplanes will not be running on kerosene forever – it is utterly short-termist not to expand airport capacity just because they do at the moment.

  • Stephen Donnelly 11th May '14 - 2:30pm

    Most opinions seem to be based on personal experience, and very little study. I think I opted for ‘expand outside of London’, but to be honest, I could be persuaded to most of the other positions once I has studied the subject.

    That raises the question of how we as a country should make strategic decisions such as this. My view is that they are best made by people with a long term interest in the outcome, a cross party consensus would be the only way to achieve that. We seem to have one on HS2 now.

  • Chris Manners 11th May '14 - 2:42pm

    “I think on this issue as on others where two liberal principles seem to collide (here, internationalism and environmentalism) there is a lack of clarity of thought among some in the party.”

    Because the rest of us are all little Englanders who dump battery acid in the streets for a laugh?

    Come on, drop the “liberal principles” stuff. It means nothing at all. Nothing.

  • Chris Manners 11th May '14 - 2:51pm

    “The point is that, because of the lack of strong regional airports, our hub airport is also overburdened with regional flights. If you had stronger regional airports then less people would need to travel via Heathrow and Heathrow would have more capacity for big international flights.”

    Don’t regional airports already do quite a lot of short haul flights?

    Birmingham Airport would seem to be the obvious place to have far more flights from.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 11th May '14 - 5:58pm


    What do you mean by “strong regional airports”?

  • Jenny Barnes 11th May '14 - 6:43pm

    “aeroplanes won’t run on kerosene for ever” Forever is of course a very long time, and no doubt one could come up with alternatives, but kerosene suitable for aviation has to meet some very demanding environmental and safety conditions, (you don’t want your fuel going lumpy just because it’s cold 5 miles up). So I would expect that aviation kerosene, along with HGV diesel will be using fossil oil for a long time. Is that a problem? Well, it’s not a very high percentage of our total fossil fuel burn, so totally decarbonising electricity, space heating, and light road transport would allow that. However – we can’t afford to maintain an aviation growth rate of around 6% as well. Doubling the demand every 12 years or so is clearly not sustainable, so aviation does need to be constrained. Individually flying is a huge CO2 output, so the current situation of frequent long haul business and leisure travel is also not sustainable.

  • Malcolm Todd 12th May '14 - 10:35am

    Simon Oliver: “even if they reach 0% fossil fuels, they are still only reducing the impact by 50%”

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but maths doesn’t seem to be your strong point. What is two times zero…?

  • I am not surprised by those figures not least because Lib Dems are just as likely to fly off on holiday as anyone else.

  • George Potter

    “I think it’s slightly misleading to count the Thames Estuary as a London airport. When you’re talking about rural Kent it’s much more of a south east airport than a London one and counting it as a London airport hides a clear plurality (36%) of support for expanding regional airports instead of focusing on London and the South East.”

    To apply that Gatwick is not “in london” neither is Stanstead, It is debateable if Heathrow really is.

    An Estuary Airport, if there were to be one would be out of town and linked up as Gatwick and Stanstead are.

  • Barry Fleet 12th May '14 - 5:01pm

    How many times does it have to be said that a ‘Boris Island’/ Thames estuary airport is extemely dangerous because of the very large numbers of migrating birds and the very high probability of bird strike ?
    There were 1000s of Brent geese there this winter.
    A generation ago, plans for a 3rd London airport on the Maplin Sands [ Foulness island] were abandoned when the stupidity of building an airport on major migration routes dawned on the planners.

  • Jenny Barnes 12th May '14 - 5:04pm

    Bio kerosene. 1 test flight by Klm? Using part bio part fossil kerosene. Let’s say you can replace fossil kero with bio…how much land will be needed to grow the crop? A possible alternative. Would be to use chemical engineering to extract co2 from the atmosphere and combine with water to make totally artificial kerosene. Lots of energy input needed for that ofc

  • Stephen Donnelly 12th May '14 - 9:03pm

    Nick Thornsby “I think we should, because making it possible to fly from the UK to smaller but increasingly important cities in developing economies will be a big advantage for the UK economically,”.

    It is possible to fly fly from the UK to smaller but increasingly important cities by changing in Dubai, or Paris or Amsterdam. It is not at all important to be able to fly directly. Dubai has a geographical advantage with which we will never compete. There is no need for a national champion supported by the state. Let the market decide, and change planes in Dubai.

  • I do get the distinct impression that airport expansion, because it is well funded by parties with vested interests (expansion of Heathrow), will simply go round and round until such time as it gets the okay. At which point we will have a few years of quiet before the next round of airport expansion…

  • Paul Pettinger 13th May '14 - 11:30am

    Stephen, will you be making available figures on the performance of our Ministers and senior parliamentarians?

  • Alex Macfie 13th May '14 - 1:40pm

    Of course, if spare capacity in the Channel Tunnel were used then we could drastically reduce short-haul flights to mainland Europe — passengers would mostly be going by rail! Of course, this would involve (i) getting rid of the unnecessary security theatre so that international trains could operate more-or-less like UK domestic trains while in the UK (similar to the practice in mainland Europe, where international trains use the same platforms as domestic trains and carry domestic passengers in every country they pass through), and (ii) working at the EU level towards integrated ticketing for cross-border train journeys. This seems a pipedream, but it’s all due to politics; get it done and air slots/space could be freed for long-haul flights without building a single piece of new infrastructure.

  • Alex, there is another change that would be needed, which is to persuade RFF (the French equivalent of Network Rail) to keep their LGVs open overnight. Their maintenance windows currently make long-distance journeys very difficult, and overnight journeys impossible.

    If you could board a train at St Pancras at, say, 10pm, and wake up in Malaga at 8am the next day, or Barcelona at 6am, or Madrid at 10am (or, better, leave at 8pm and arrive in Madrid for 8am), then who’d fly? I know I wouldn’t!

    It’s technically possible, but the track in France is closed, and the border and security nonsense means that you couldn’t get a train back!

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