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Third runway at Heathrow to bring ‘limited direct benefit’ to UK SMEs

Heathrow expansion infographic  

Half of the UK’s SMEs feel that the proposed third runway at Heathrow is the right decision for the UK

Despite nearly three in five saying it won’t bring them any direct benefit, a survey of 900 businesses conducted on behalf of Close Brothers Asset Finance reveals. Half again would prefer it if a more centrally located airport was either built or developed instead of runway 3. 

  • 51% think runway 3 is the ‘right decision for the UK’   
  • 57% will see no direct benefit from any additional capacity 
  • 50% would prefer a more centrally located airport to be built or developed
  • 42% say the expansion of Heathrow would exacerbate the North / South divide  

Just over a quarter of SMEs (27%) will directly benefit from the additional capacity that the third runway at Heathrow will create, while 57% will not; the remaining 16% are ‘unsure’. 

“Unsurprisingly, the further from Heathrow businesses are located, the less they will benefit from the third runway,” said Neil Davies, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance. “Our research also found that only 10% of businesses with a turnover under £250k would see any value from it. 

“That said, business owners were broadly in favour of runway 3, with 51% feeling that it would the ‘right decision’ for the UK. Businesses turning over between £5m to £10m are particularly positive, with 69% positive about the possibility of it being built.”

Value for money? 

Business owners are split about whether the third runway represents value for money for businesses and tax payers, with 40% thinking it does and 38% having the opposite view; the remaining 22% weren’t sure. 

“At a projected cost of £14bn, many business owners don’t feel that they will benefit from this major infrastructure project,” said Neil. “For example, only 27% of respondents in the East Midlands and 34% of those in Wales think it will be money wisely spent. 

“From a sector perspective, Construction (49%), Engineering (46%), Manufacturing (45%) and Transport (44%) all track above the national average.”

Different location

Half of those polled would prefer a more centrally located airport to be built or and existing one developed. 

Unsurprisingly, many Northern regions see the benefit of a central hub, and – interestingly - more Greater London firms are in favour of a central airport than those against, while a large minority of those in Wales and Scotland are still undecided. 

North / South divide

Over four in ten businesses (42%) think the expansion of Heathrow would make the so-called North / South divide even greater than it is today.

“There is a long-held perception that investment in the North lags behind that of the South,” said Neil. “However, our results tell us that for over a third (35%) a new runway will make no difference at all.

“When we break the survey down regionally, all the Northern England areas track well above the UK average, while those in the South tend to feel that it makes little difference.” 


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from a GMI survey conducted in August 2018. The survey canvassed the opinion of nearly 1,000 SME owners across the UK and RoI and across several industries on a range of issues affecting their businesses.