A series of presentations, debates and roundtables, facilitated by NLA, London’s Centre for the Built Environment, have been exploring the viability of ‘Heathrow City’ and helping to inform any future proposals for the site.

Participants have included policy-makers, masterplanners, property developers, financiers, housebuilders, researchers and academics from many of the UK’s leading companies and institutions. They have shared their experience, from both London and abroad.

London 2050 – What can we learn from Denver?
8 April 2014


A special seminar, run by TfL with NLA and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in April, invited Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, together with his aviation team, to share his experience of moving Denver’s airport in the 1990s.

According to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Boris Johnson faces an ‘uphill struggle’ in convincing London, the Davies Commission and the airports community over his vision for a new facility to the east of the capital, additionally freeing up land for housing and jobs on the Heathrow site. But Denver’s move to close its Stapleton International Airport 20 years ago to provide a bigger, more efficient airport plus a new community of 17,000 people on its old site shows what can be done with the dual tailwinds of political leadership and support.

Hancock outlined the conditions that lay behind the city deciding to uproot and start again but said his only advice to his London counterpart was to ‘keep the dialogue going’, principally about creating a new airport on the Isle of Grain to go with London’s general shift eastwards. ‘As a mayor you either envision things or you manage things’, said Hancock. ‘Part of the challenge for mayors is not to see how things are, but how they could be.’

According to Stewart Murray, GLA assistant director of planning, London faces significant pressures from a ‘population demographic timebomb’. ‘We’re in one of the greatest cities on the planet and always have to rise above the debate about airlines and flying and think about cities’, he said. But the possible closure of Heathrow and relocation of the airport could create a series of opportunities for London’s housing and economic needs. Transport, he said, is a big challenge for a city growing by


2 million over the next 15 years, to 10 million in total, and there is a need for airport capacity fit for a city growing so rapidly.

In the 1980s Denver was faced with an airport – Stapleton International Airport – that had limited capacity to grow on a landlocked site, and struggled to operate effectively in poor weather, acting as a constraint on the economy as well as a nuisance for residents hit by high noise levels. Eventually, after having negotiated past votes to allow Denver to annex the site and struggles and litigation with opposition from some airlines (who apparently now hail the decision), the city emerged with a new site that was big enough – at 53 square miles – to deal with six initial runways and grow to a potential 12 runways, thus mitigating against the need to move again. The move was founded upon a great deal of strong political leadership at local, state and national level, as well as many hundreds of hours of community consultation.

In 1995 the lights were turned off at the old airport, said Kim Day, chief executive of Denver International Airport, when a ‘caravan’ of vehicles moved to the new facility, some 60km from downtown Denver. The challenge, said Day, was to close the ninth busiest airport in the world and open a new one 18 miles away, virtually overnight. The new site has space for 100 million passengers rather than 25 million, 1,550 flights daily today and has achieved eight times the economic impact of the old site.

Mayor Hancock said a ‘master developer’ had been appointed to be responsible for the 4,700 acres of land at the old site which in 2002 was opened for the first residents. The real estate values of the site and wider Aerotropolis are projected to be £4.2 billion in 2025 and largely private investment has been helping to build 12,000 new homes, 10million sq ft of office space, six new schools and 1,000 acres of public parks.


‘The lessons of Stapleton are that, by opening our eyes and ears, we can achieve great things’, said Hancock. ‘This was our future.’

Write up by David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

SPEAKERS: Mayor Michael B. Hancock - Mayor of Denver / Kim Day - Chief Executive  at Denver International Airport / Stewart Murray - Assistant Director at Planning, GLA / Vernon Murphy - Chairman of Aviation Forum, CILT UK


How would you fund and deliver a development the scale of Heathrow City?
4 June 2014


Creating a new airport in the Thames Estuary and a ‘Heathrow City’ on the old site in west London could allow the capital to undergo a paradigm shift in regenerating the east and simultaneously help allay London’s chronic housing shortage. The move would be a radical one, requiring significant strategic ‘top-down’ planning, management and delivery alongside the provision of upgraded transport links between east and west. Those were some of the views to emerge from a think tank co-hosted by Transport for London and the GLA, and facilitated by NLA in June 2014.

The session was chaired by LSE London director Tony Travers who set out the context that London Heathrow had been overtaken as an international airport in the last months, begging the question of the capital’s ongoing competitiveness and what it would do with such a massive site if Heathrow – an accident, like so many planning decisions in London – were closed and a new airport in the Thames Estuary created.

Transport for London’s director of transport strategy and planning Richard De Cani said that there was a degree of frustration at the ‘narrowness’ of the parameters of the Davies Commission, since such a major public policy decision had wider ramifications to the general economy, population growth, housing and environment over the next 50 years than aviation alone. That was why, he said, TfL had commissioned JLL and PBA, and then three firms of architects to look into potential scenarios for the redevelopment of the Heathrow site were a new airport to be built in the Thames Estuary, which would release a large amount of land in west London to help meet London’s housing needs.


JLL director, development consulting, Katie Kopec said this was a unique opportunity to look at what to do with a serviced site that stretches to some 3,000 acres. JLL has come up with a series of different scenarios, benchmarked against other developments such as Canary Wharf, King’s Cross and other airports which had been moved, notably Denver in the US. This was no massing exercise, but a demand-driven approach which JLL split into three broad scenarios that might be in play by 2030. The first was as a commercial opportunity, building on the existing business base at Heathrow, keeping T5 as a new educational, entertainment and conference facility – the O2 of the west. The second was as a new town but with a high degree of industrial use, and the third was as a residential-led scenario – a new, dense borough at the kind of levels of Kensington and Chelsea. All three were viable, and Heathrow City might be a combination of elements of each. There is, said Kopec, ‘a huge opportunity here to create a new piece of London’, with a development corporation with overarching control the kind of model Kopec felt could work here.

Discussion of the proposals was wide and varied, with a Hybrid Bill felt to be the mechanism through which such a scheme could come to light, covering both Heathrow and the Estuary airport.

In terms of the wider regeneration impacts of developing Heathrow City, Dorchester Living CEO Paul Silver said that it could provide benefits to London well beyond the site itself, acting as a catalyst to development in areas such as Dagenham and Barking Riverside.

Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners director Peter Bishop said that the real gains could be seen outside Heathrow’s boundary, with the case for it strengthened by the sub-regional level and the ‘potential to rethink a very long term future’, albeit with ‘massive government investment and the need for far better links into London.’ One of the early problems with the Olympic Park agency was that it did not think outside its boundary – Heathrow needs to be thought of in a sub-regional context in terms of transport, employment and environmental impact.


Peabody Trust chief executive Stephen Howlett suggested that the mayor needs to convince government to see this as a coordinated plan for London. The amount of money required to build four new river crossings, for example, was in fact comparatively small compared to the ‘quite extraordinary’ economic impact they make. Sebastian Grigg, vice chairman investment EMEA, Credit Suisse, said a link to the new airport and other public transport infrastructure investment must be part of the scenario.

But a challenge is the amount of political will and lack of ambition for such a project as Heathrow City, said Knight Frank partner of residential research, Liam Bailey. Another still lies in the jobs factor, said Chris Hall, senior director at GVA, with the amount of new housing it could deliver comparatively easier to sell. The impact of moving Heathrow could be similar to the relocation of Ford, or, suggested Bishop, like closing the biggest coal mine you could think of, so reskilling would be a hugely important factor.

Lessons can be learned from bodies such as the London Docklands Development Corporation and the way it aided the creation of Docklands, but in the west the infrastructure is already in place, said Kopec. While there will not be a single housing solution, one effective way of achieving density, said Bishop, would be to embrace the terrace rather than the detached house. And this, said Kopec, is not about short term cash flow, but long-term placemaking. ‘We have to put the mechanism in to deliver that’, she said. ‘I don’t think we can use existing models’.

Ultimately, whatever powers are brought in to create Heathrow City, said Travers, they would have to be radical, linked to the Estuary airport and very powerful indeed, perhaps even stronger than those which brought about the New Towns. ‘Although this is one large project, it isn’t only for London and it isn’t the only project’, said Travers. ‘Nothing we have discussed suggests that these changes could not take place. But what they do suggest is that, probably even more than the Olympics, or any of the big projects we’ve seen of the last 30 or 40 years, this would require massive – from day one – top-down planning, management, and delivery.’


Write up by David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

Attendees: Liam Bailey - Partner, Residential Research, Knight Frank / Peter Bishop - Director, Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners / Robin Buckle - Head of Urban Design, Transport for London / Richard de Cani - Director, Transport Strategy and Policy, Transport for London / Will Cousins - Deputy Chairman, David Lock Associates / Richard Fagg - Director of London Area, Bouygues Development / Sebastian Grigg - Vice Chairman Investment EMEA, Credit Suisse / Chris Hall - Senior Director, GVA / Stephen Howlett - Chief Executive, Peabody Trust / Richard Jones - Director, Development Consulting, JLL / Katie Kopec - Director, Development Consulting, JLL / Bruno Moser - Head of Urban Design, Foster + Partners / Shamal Ratnayaka - Principal Transport Planner, Transport for London / Andy Rumfitt - Socio-Economic Adviser, Planning Projects, Transport for London / Paul Silver - CEO, Dorchester Living / Emma Spierin - Urban Designer, Transport for London / Tony Travers - Director, LSE London (Chair) / Damon Turner - Senior Land Manager, Taylor Wimpey West London / Julian Ware - Senior Principal, Commercial Finance, Transport for London / Jason Wood - Project Director, Hadley Mace /



What sort of place could Heathrow City become?
6 June 2014


What sort of place could Heathrow City become?

A think tank held at the NLA and co-hosted by the Mayor of London and Transport for London sought to explore this issue, wrestling with how to create and deliver high-density housing, the connectivity of the site, its governance and its very identity on the national and world stage.

The event was chaired by Allies and Morrison’s Peter Bishop, who pointed out the topicality of a debate over building a new community on the Heathrow site along with a new airport in the Thames Estuary, with Sir Michael Lyons urging large scale urban extensions and development corporations to lead them. The question at Heathrow, said Bishop, is how to achieve the quality of place which releases value, accommodates some of London’s growth and, even more critically, produces a place where people actually want to live.

TfL Principal Transport Planner Shamal Ratnayaka painted the background to the debate and the frustration TfL feels in that the Davies Commission is largely dealing in aviation terms alone. This, said Ratnayaka, is a ‘huge policy question’ with the prospects to transform both east and west London. Building a new settlement at Heathrow is ‘a compelling story’ – the question is whether we want to create more of the 1930s urban form back on the site or produce something higher density, supported by tubes and Crossrail.

TfL has commissioned three different development scenarios via JLL: the first with around 32,000 housing units; the second with 47,000 and the third making it effectively a residential quarter with 86,000 residential units and a population of 200,000. The world is changing, said Buckle, and the site


could have to come to grips with new occupational densities, office developments and new forms of retail. ‘Maybe there is an opportunity for innovation and creating something new and exciting’, said Buckle.

Discussion of the key principles touched on jobs – Turley executive director Mike Lowndes stressing the need for a strategy to re-provide employment while questioning what kind of place this would be. Could it be a new borough? Or perhaps a city like Leeds? Will it have a central business district, or be more polycentric, like a classic London borough?

For Ben Derbyshire, managing partner at HTA, the numbers proposed would not be high density, with 150 dwellings per hectare something that would be ‘perfectly comfortable’ for London. Indeed, if London was developed to that density throughout its borders it could accommodate some 20 million people. One opportunity for increasing those densities, said LLDC chief of design Kathryn Firth, is to create new typologies that recognise the increasingly blurred lines between working and personal lives. Whatever happens, said Duncan Swinhoe, managing director of Gensler, we haven’t had to face this kind of planned expansion anywhere in the last 100 years, so Heathrow City should support growth and employment generated around the whole Thames Valley.

The danger, said Alex Ely, founder of Mae architects, is that we begin to look at this as an opportunity just to meet all the housing numbers we are short of – the starting point has to instead be what kind of place we could create, with the social and economic drivers supported by housing. There is, after all, already a shopping mall at Heathrow and other reuse possibilities, such as creating markets in existing hangars or using terminal buildings for university buildings. ‘It has the infrastructure that people can build off and adapt and refit’, said Ely. Or perhaps, he added, we should build on the already strong Heathrow ‘brand’, inviting, say, Bernie Ecclestone to help create a new grand prix race track on site. Strategies for the site should also be underpinned by deep research to get a data set of what people like, said Tibbalds director Hilary Satchwell.


RIBA Building Futures chair Dickon Robinson added that we have been here before, with the ‘overnight’ closure of the Docks and decades of dereliction that followed. ‘I can’t really see this working as a big bang’, said Robinson, suggesting that a programme of 30-40 years was more realistic. The redevelopment of Docklands was at the time grasped as a possibility by people on the other side of the Atlantic; perhaps Heathrow too is a ‘global opportunity’, said Robinson, rather than just a London one. ‘You need to get some fresh thinking from the other side of the world. It’s a fantastic opportunity… This is about rethinking what a global city is like, a genuinely international place.’

If it were to be the big bang solution, said DTZ’s John Turner, it would be a case of having substantial investment up front, pump-primed by the state. Or we could even think radically and envisage the site as a new country or principality, said Logan – the Monaco of the West – especially as it could easily hold a population the size of, say, Iceland. There is also perhaps a case for initiating an environment with relaxed planning, as had happened with Docklands, encouraging creativity and highly desirable organic growth.

But the group felt that the current method of delivering large numbers of housing units needs reform, current housebuilders showing a ‘fundamental shortfall’ in capacity’ said Logan. Perhaps the answer was to install 3D printing machines in those hangars, said Ely.

Ultimately, if Heathrow City were allowed to be created at the kind of medium density of places like Kensington and Chelsea, we would trigger a development boom of at least 40 years, said Bishop. But do we have the capacity and skills to do it? Perhaps, he added, a bid for the 2036 Olympics might provide just the kind of impetus and immoveable deadlines that might be needed.


Write up by David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

Attendees: Peter Bishop, Director, Allies and Morrison (Chair) Andrew Beharrell, Executive Director, PTEa Architects Robin Buckle, Head of Urban Design, TfL Trevor Burns, Director of Development, East Thames Group Darryl Chen, Partner, Hawkins\Brown Ben Derbyshire, Managing Partner, HTA Alex Ely, Founder, Mae Architects Kathryn Firth, Chief of Design, LLDC Brendan Kilpatrick, Partner, PRP Architects Kevin Logan, Associate Director, Maccreanor Lavington Mike Lowndes, Executive Director, Turley Jo McCafferty, Director, Levitt Bernstein Gavin Miller, Partner, Rick Mather Architects Shamal Ratnayaka, Principal Transport Planner, Transport for London Dickon Robinson, Chair, RIBA Building Futures Hilary Satchwell, Director, Tibbalds Duncan Swinhoe, Managing Director, Gensler Jonathan Turner, Director – Development Consulting, DTZ Andrew Tindsley, Director, BDP Emma Spierin, Urban Designer, TfL



Shaping a Growing London – the place of an airport
18 June 2014


London needs to make a clear decision about its immediate and long-term aviation needs if it is to stay competitive on the world stage and make effective provision for its rapid growth in population.

Those were some of the main thrusts of a special conference hosted in Stratford’s town hall by the Mayor of London, which endeavoured to allow a full debate of the main issues concerned with the various proposals in the run-up to the report of the Davies Commission next summer.

Deputy mayor Eddie Lister said that London is going to ‘radically change over the next few years’, with a population of 10 million projected by 2030 and a necessity of providing effective transport infrastructure to handle all those people whilst preserving the kind of environment they will want to live in. London is a very ‘green and pleasant city’, he said, which is a driver it must not lose sight of, but transport will become all important in unlocking opportunities in outer London for housing and employment.

Michèle Dix, managing director of planning at Transport for London, said the city must plan beyond to 2050 in this regard, especially with 10 million more trips projected by that year, a 40 per cent increase. A huge programme of investment in infrastructure is already underway with tube upgrades, station enhancements and Crossrail 1, with TfL also hopeful of delivering Crossrail 2 by 2029. But the opportunity for growth in the future is ‘very much skewed to the east’, she said, with ‘vast swathes’ of land available in the east and north-east, where river crossings are also needed to galvanise regeneration. Siting a new airport to the east in the estuary, she said, would catalyse jobs and contribute billions more to GDP.


What the business sector wants to see, said Westfield development director John Burton, is ‘airport infrastructure that works and services business –nothing less and nothing more’. But fundamentally it wants ‘certainty’, and it does not have that in the present debate, as opposed to when the Olympics presented a clear timetable and certainty as the bedrock for the Stratford Westfield store. Bartlett professor of planning and regeneration, Sir Peter Hall said much of the growth is in the east of London, with the Thames Gateway having the space to provide, despite the unmet targets from the vision for the area launched in 1995. This and regeneration in the greater south east could be catalysed by the mayor’s proposed new estuary airport: ‘Growth has proved welcome, and they can’t get enough of it’, he said.

Heathrow, meanwhile, could become a new residential quarter for 80,000 homes, 300,000 people and 90,000 jobs, added Sir Peter. ‘The question is: are we thinking about a short-term fix or a long-term strategic vision for London and the Greater South East?’

The conference also heard from Peabody chief executive Stephen Howlett, who said that housebuilding has not kept pace with growth, but that Peabody has invested in a major project to provide 10,000 homes at Thamesmead in a community which could help serve an eastern airport. Professor Doctor Alain Thierstein from the Munich University of Technology, moreover said that the plane crash in 1960 changed people’s perception of safety and noise issues which made the Bavarian government think about relocations, and that the key question today is the airport’s relationship with the rest of the region.

A panel session included representations from other proponents in the aviation debate, including Andrew Macmillan, director of strategy for Heathrow, who argued that expansion of the airport goes with the grain of the London Plan’s western wedge and represents among other things a chance to aid


unemployment in opportunity areas such as Old Oak Common. David McMillan, non-executive director from Gatwick, said that Gatwick is the flexible solution which can help deliver the future and help to balance London’s economy as ‘the obvious solution’. Foster and Partners’ Huw Thomas, the architect behind the Isle of Grain solution, said that all over the world we are seeing the next generation of global hubs developing and London needs to maintain its global hub status for the wider economy, with the next generation having the capacity to ‘connect to far flung places we hadn’t considered.’ And Captain Jock Lowe, who proposes the Heathrow Hub – extending both existing runways at Heathrow and dividing them into four for simultaneous take-offs and landings, said the answer should be kept as simple as possible. ‘Heathrow is a hub for the UK. It’s a transport hub, and it is in the right place’, he said. ‘Our plan is the cheapest, easiest, simplest and can provide all the capacity Heathrow will need for the foreseeable future until the end of the century.’

But said Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the aviation issue cannot be seen in isolation from the wider development of London. ‘If we’re going to win the race we have to get off the starting blocks’, said Johnson. Sir Howard Davies said he had commissioned four studies on the estuary/Heathrow City proposition – on environmental, socio-economic, surface access and airline behaviour issues, and will report on whether the Thames Estuary airport option will be added to the shortlist in September.