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Commission recommends third Heathrow runway, but will it ever be built?

Commission recommends third Heathrow runway, but will it ever be built?

🕔01.Jul 2015

The independent Airports Commission has come down heavily in favour of building a new runway at Heathrow, largely on economic grounds, in a decision that will put pressure on the Government to back what is certain to be a hugely controversial proposal.

The commission, chaired by economist Sir Howard Davies and set up by David Cameron in 2012 to settle the vexed question of airport expansion in the south-east, said pushing ahead with Heathrow’s third runway alongside a ban on night flights was the best way to boost Britain’s economy and secure the UK’s future as a global aviation player.

The recommendation contained in the commission’s final report published today, although not unexpected, is a blow to Gatwick and Birmingham airports.

Gatwick had lobbied hard for a new runway and the plan was supported by Birmingham on the grounds that further expansion of Heathrow would harm growth in the regions.

Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe has also talked about Birmingham becoming “Heathrow’s third runway” given the arrival of HS2 which will cut journey times between the two airports to about 45 minutes.

Mr Kehoe said the Airports Commission’s recommendation was not a surprise.

He claimed it would take ten years to build a third runway at Heathrow, leaving plenty of time for Birmingham to “fill the gap”.

Sir Howard’s report suggests a third runway at a cost of £17.6 billion could generate up to £147 billion for the economy over 60 years and create 70,000 new jobs by 2050.

However, Mr Kehoe pointed out that the economic cost in delaying building a new runway would be £14 billion a year and that a 15-year delay in getting the new Heathrow runway up and running could cost the UK economy over £200 billion.

He urged the Government to take a cautious response to the commission’s report “so as not to damage the ability of regional airports to grow”.

Mr Kehoe added:“The Midlands is a powerful engine of growth at the heart of our country and needs direct aviation to succeed. With our £200 million investment in the airport, including our runway extension allowing for this summer’s extended series of direct flights to Beijing, we are doing all we can to support the region’s businesses and leisure passengers.

“Whilst the Government continues to review all the evidence before it, Birmingham Airport looks forward to continuing the expansion of our long-haul offering in support of the region’s economy”.

Birmingham chamber of commerce chief executive Paul Faulkner urged the Government “to move ahead in a way that does not restrict Birmingham’s own room to grow.” He added:

Businesses tell us they want to be able to fly directly to their markets and not have to go through West London.

The commission described plans for a new runway at Gatwick as “plausible” but warned failure to expand Heathrow would risk seeing the UK’s aviation sector lose out to the rest of Europe.

Sir Howard is calling for a “significant package of measures” to mitigate the impact of a third runway at Heathrow on local communities and the environment with a package to include a ban on all flights between 11.30pm and 6am, a legally binding cap on noise levels, a levy to fund a more generous compensation package for those living under the flight path, and an independent noise regulator.

In his final report, Sir Howard said:

Over the past two and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process.

At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.

Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.

Adding capacity at Heathrow also provides an opportunity to change the airport’s relationship with its local communities as some overseas airports have done. To make expansion possible the commission recommends a comprehensive package of accompanying measures including a ban on night flights and a new noise levy to fund a far stronger and more generous set of compensation and mitigation schemes.

The Government will not automatically accept Sir Howard’s recommendations and ministers are expected to take several months to weigh up the options.

Expanding Heathrow is a politically incendiary option for the Tories, having entered the 2010 General Election promising not to build a third runway.

At least five Conservative cabinet ministers represent seats that would be affected by Heathrow expansion including Theresa May, Phillip Hammond, Greg Hands, Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is also opposed to a third runway and favours building a new London airport in the Thames Estuary. He said today that he did not believe a third Heathrow runway would ever be built and the estuary airport remained the only viable option.

Sir Howard urged the Government to decide quickly.

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.

Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe had backed the Gatwick expansion proposals as being the most favourable to the West Midlands, claiming a third runway at Heathrow would draw more businesspeople out of the regions and towards the capital.

An attempt to convince the Government to back a second runway at Birmingham was rejected at an earlier stage by the commission.

Birmingham hit back, noting that recent growth at the airport, which reported a 6.5 per cent rise in passengers to 9.7 million last year, showed there was appetite to fly from the regions.

Earlier in the year Mr Kehoe said:

New analysis of the Airports Commission’s research raises serious concerns that the potential negative effects of Heathrow expansion on our regional economies has not been properly considered.

According to this analysis, Heathrow expansion would be more likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate regional imbalances.

Mr Kehoe is promoting a network of “national long-haul airports, plugging all regions into global growth opportunities” rather than an expanded Heathrow which he believes will draw more businesses into the over-heated south-east economy.

Gatwick Airport insists it is “still very much in the race” despite Sir Howard’s recommendations.

Chief executive Stewart Wingate said:

The commission’s report makes clear that expansion at Gatwick is deliverable. It is for the commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the government to decide.

So we now enter the most important stage of the process. We are confident that when the Government makes that decision they will choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option.

This report highlights the very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow such as air quality and noise impact. Gatwick will give the country the economic benefits it needs and at the same time impact far less people. It is quicker simpler and quieter. Above all – after decades of delay – it can actually happen.

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