Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission has recommended that Heathrow airport be allowed to build a third runway.
“We have concluded that the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s runway capacity,” says Davies in his report, adding that there is a clear need for additional runway capacity by 2030 and that a political decision needs to be made “soon”.
“While London remains a well connected city, its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain,” says Davies. “Heathrow is operating at capacity, and Gatwick is quickly approaching the same point. There is still spare capacity elsewhere in the South East for point-to-point and especially low-cost flights, but with no availability at its main hub airport, London is beginning to find that new routes to important long-haul destinations are set up elsewhere in Europe rather than in the UK.
“Other UK airports are increasingly squeezed out of Heathrow, with passengers from the nations and regions obliged to transfer through other European airports, or Middle Eastern hubs. That costs them time and money, and is off-putting to inward investors. Without action soon, the position will continue to deteriorate, and the entire London system will be full by 2040.
“Good aviation connectivity is vital for the UK economy. It promotes trade and inward investment, and is especially crucial for a global city like London. The service sector, whether the City, the media industry or universities, depends heavily on prompt face-to-face contact. There is strong evidence that good transport links, and especially aviation connectivity, make an important contribution to enhancing productivity, which is an important national challenge,” says Davies.
“So a new runway in the South East is needed by 2030, which means a firm decision is needed soon, as bringing it into operation will take a decade or more. One new runway, even fully utilised, is compatible with continued progress towards reducing carbon emissions, and putting it elsewhere in the country would produce a far less efficient outcome. It will provide the capacity we need until 2040 at least. Beyond that, the position is uncertain, and will be strongly dependent on the international policy approach to climate change.”
Ruling out the others
Davies said a brand new airport in the Thames Estuary, “while appealing in theory”, is unfeasibly expensive, highly problematic in environmental terms and would be hugely disruptive for many businesses and communities.
Gatwick, by contrast, has presented a “plausible” case for expansion, he said. It is well placed to cater for growth in intra-European leisure flying, but is unlikely to provide as much of the type of capacity which is most urgently required. This means long-haul destinations in new markets.
Heathrow can provide that capacity most easily and quickly, said Davies. The benefits are significantly greater, for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy. All passengers will benefit from enhanced competition.
Heathrow Hub “imaginative but untested”
Davies opted for the north west runway proposal by Heathrow Airport. He said the Heathrow Hub proposal was an “imaginative idea”, which has “usefully opened up thinking” about the way the airport operates, but was less attractive from a noise perspective. He added that Heathrow’s proposal was technically feasible and does not involve massive, untested infrastructure.
He claimed the costs of Heathrow’s plans are high, but financeable by the private sector.
The Heathrow decision comes with caveats though. To make expansion possible the Commission recommends a comprehensive package of accompanying measures which would make the airport’s expansion more acceptable to its local community, and to Londoners generally.
The package includes a ban on night flights, more reliable respite for overflown communities, a legally-enforced “noise envelope”, a statutory independent aviation noise authority, and a noise levy to fund a far stronger and more generous set of compensation and mitigation schemes. New measures to ensure acceptable air quality around the airport will also be needed. All this would be accompanied by a new community engagement board based on the successful model adopted in Amsterdam.
Furthermore, as there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway at Heathrow and that option should be ruled out by the government through legislation, said the Commission.
Government urged to act
The Commission urges the government to make an early decision on its recommendations. “Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy in the twenty first century,” it said.
The government has already said it will not respond to Davies’ recommendation before the end of the year. But chancellor George Osborne has implied that government will endorse the Commission’s recommendation, telling the CBI annual dinner in May that “when we get Howard Davies’ report on a new runway in the South East, we’re going to take the decision and get it built”.
Heathrow Airport said it would work with government to deliver to Davies’ recommendation.
“This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy.
Our new plans have been designed around the needs of local communities and will meet carbon, air quality and noise targets, and provides the greatest benefit to the UK’s connectivity and its long term economic growth, ” said Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.
“We will create the world’s best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport at the heart of an integrated transport system.
“The Commission has backed a positive and ambitious vision for Britain. We will now work with Government to deliver it.”