JOE GILL: Heathrow Airport plan offers ‘open goal’ for Ireland

Every now and then an open goal occurs. The term comes from sport and refers to an empty goalmouth with a missing goalkeeper. In such a situation a ball can be placed in the net without interference.

The UK Government has presented Ireland with an open goal over the past week. This is not a normal goal. In fact the post has been widened, the bar has been raised and the penalty spot has been moved over a metre closer to the goal line. Only an idiot could miss in these circumstances.

The open goal I refer to relates to Heathrow Airport. The Government in Britain has opted to support a third runway at that airport which lies relatively close to the west side of the city and is in the heart of a highly populated area.

The proposed runway will be north of the two existing strips and, therefore, will be an east-west piece of infrastructure. With prevailing westerly winds that implies aircraft traffic will continue to approach Heathrow by flying directly over the heart of the city.

The runway, itself, will require the demolition of over 10,000 lived-in houses and a number of small villages. Political opposition is red hot and the planning process, alone, will extend the time period before this runway opens to probably 10 years or more.

Based on current calculations the runway and its associated infrastructure will cost £16bn to build. This provides a hint to the enormous open goal placed in front of the Irish Government.

The Heathrow runway is being pushed forward despite huge obstacles for one key reason. Authorities recognise without an expansion of air travel infrastructure the UK will be held back from economic development.

That argument is even more acute in Ireland because our small and open economy is the most exposed state in Europe to the global marketplace.

It is while comparing new runway potential at Heathrow and Dublin airports the huge open goal materialises. At Heathrow, the runway costing £8bn (the total cost is £16bn but that includes a lot of ancillary areas) will be 3,500 metres in length and 60 metres wide.

This suffices to accommodate the aircraft planned over the next number of decades. In Dublin, the second runway being proposed will cost €320m. That facility will measure 3,110 metres in length and 60 metres wide, broadly similar to Heathrow.

The key reason it will cost about 4% of the budget being considered in London relates, primarily, to the site circumstances in Dublin.

Unlike Heathrow, Dublin already has most of the area designated for the runway secured as empty land. There are no major motorways to be dug up in Dublin and no towns will be eviscerated while building the new strip.

Strategically, a new runway at Dublin can be established at a fraction of the cost required in London. It can also be built quicker as planning has already being approved.

This provides the formula for the Irish Government, on behalf of the long-term interests of the state, to score a winning open goal.

That new runway can deliver much-needed capacity to accelerate the progress of Irish industry and services. By almost doubling the capacity at the airport this runway will allow business and tourism to plan for further growth.

While the politicians and planners in London dither and argue about the prospects of a new runway at Heathrow Ireland can send a strong message it is open for business while being pragmatic and commercial in its attitude towards future growth.

Providing that type of leadership at a time when Brexit is amplifying the risks to the Irish economy would be a positive step forward by our political elite.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking. His views are personal.


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