Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Comment | The airport expansion debate goes on

Mark Hansford

So, the bookies were wrong. It’s Heathrow. Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission has clearly recommended a new north eastern runway be built at Heathrow. So that’s that then, isn’t it

Well, it seems not. No sooner had Davies published the results of his Commission’s incredibly thorough, three-year, fact-based investigation than London mayor Boris Johnson and a host of other influential politicos have trotted out to issue “over my dead body” calls.

And the beaten finalists are hardly any less vehement in their determination to fight on – Davies conceded that Gatwick presented a “plausible case” for expansion, and chief executive Stewart Wingate immediately came out fighting, insisting his airport was “still in the race”. His R2 development director Raymond Melee was no less feisty at NCE’s Airport Development, Design & Engineering conference yesterday: “From our point of view we are still in the race and doing everything we can to beat the competition,” he said. “We welcome competition; we love it.”

Heathrow's third runway by night

Source: Heathrow airport

Heathrow’s third runway by night

Gatwick’s hopes now rest on persuading the government not to back Davies’ recommendation; something it is confident it can do, given the environmental challenges Heathrow faces.

“We’re delighted that Davies concluded that Gatwick is deliverable and affordable. But we don’t agree with his recommendation. We do not believe that a third runway at Heathrow can ever be legal or deliverable. We’ve been here before; it’s the same argument re-run.

“So we think that by moving forward we are helping push something that is deliverable. Gatwick is faster to build, is cleaner, greener and doesn’t involve any extra tax payer funding,” he said.

Alternative Heathrow expansion proposal backer Heathrow Hub is no less vehement in its determination to move forward either. Described by Davies as an “imaginative idea” that has “usefully opened up thinking” about the way Heathrow operates – the concept creates a third runway by extending the existing northern one and splitting it in two – its backers are equally dogged.

As Kevin Harman, Heathrow Hub communications director told the NCE conference: “We feel Davies has landed at the right airport but on the wrong runway. So we are going to work with government over the next few months to persuade them of our arguments. The Airports Commission confirms we have credible scheme; a deliverable scheme; and our scheme is £3bn cheaper.”

So, with government saying it will respond later this year, we now look forward to months of frantic lobbying and, frankly, who knows where that will lead. The bookies might end up being right after all.

One thing – one very good thing – has emerged with certainty though. And that is what can be achieved by engineers with a vision and a belief in it. Former Arup director Mark Bostock’s Heathrow Hub team are rightly proud of taking a hugely imaginative concept, getting it funded, getting it shortlisted and getting it to within a whisper of being the chosen option. They’ve got the silver medal; they came so close to getting the gold – it’s a fantastic message to all engineers out there. Well done Heathrow Hub.

Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.