Financial News

  • 18 December 2013, 14:15

New Runways For Gatwick And Heathrow Airports

Building a controversial third runway at Heathrow airport has been shortlisted as one of the options for expansion by the Airports Commission in its first report.

The interim findings of an independent inquiry led by the former head of the Financial Services Authority, Sir Howard Davies, has also recommended a second runway for Gatwick airport.

Sir Howard has also said he would consider the idea of building a new airport in the Thames Estuary, plans for which have been backed by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, although he did not include it on the shortlist of options.

He warned if the UK did not expand its airports then it would cost the economy £45bn over 60 years and that to cope with increasing passenger numbers the first new runway should be operation by 2030, the second by 2050.

Sir Howard said: "The UK enjoys excellent connectivity today. The capacity challenge is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon and our analysis clearly supports the provision of one net additional runway by 2030.

"In the meantime we encourage the government to act on our recommendations to make the best of our existing capacity."

He said that politicians would have to chose which runway to build first - one at Gatwick or one at Heathrow - as work on them would not be able to be carried out at the same time.

A third runway for Heathrow has met with bitter opposition and the publication of the report will likely trigger a substantial political row.

The Conservative party made its opposition to plans for the airport's expansion - supported by the Labour government - part of its 2010 election manifesto and ruled a third runway out when the coalition came to power.

Among the most vociferous opponents have been Mr Johnson and the Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, a keen environmentalist whose constituency is in the flight path.

Mr Johnson told Sky News that building another runway at Heathrow would be "bonkers".

He said that both the new runway options for Heathrow would involve "concreting over the M25 probably closing that major artery for five years at the least".

And he said that a second strip for Gatwick would make no difference to dealing with the air traffic.

He said: "A new airport in the inner estuary is the only credible hub option left, and the only one that would uphold this country's claim to be the natural financial, commercial and economic capital of Europe."

Last week he threatened to call for a judicial review if plans for the four-runway airport on the Isle of Grain, which at £112bn would cost five times as much as Heathrow expansion, were not included in the commission's report.

The commission said it had not shortlisted the Thames Estuary plan "because there are too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage".

However, it will undertake further study of plans to see whether it was a "credible proposal" and may include it on the shortlist next summer.

The Airport Commission's final report will be submitted in the summer of 2015, after the next General Election, and the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin said the Government would not indicate a preference on options until after that.

Mr Goldsmith, who has suggested he would leave the Tory party over the issue, said last week that any decision by the Prime Minister to back Heathrow expansion would represent an "off-the-scale betrayal".

Heathrow is currently operating at 98% of its capacity with 65m travellers using it in 2012 but the report pointed out that it was so busy passengers suffered "a high level of delay and unreliability".

If it is not allowed to expand, those in favour of a third runway claim that travellers to Europe will opt to fly into airports at Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam instead, at a cost to the UK economy.

Heathrow representatives told the commission that a third runway could be operating by 2029 allowing 260,000 more flights a year.

There are two options for the extra runway - to build a 3,500m (11,500ft) strip to the north west of the site or to extend the northern runway to 6,000m (20,000ft) and use one half for take-offs and the other for landings.

The north west option would see 1,500 homes demolished and the loss of 30 listed buildings, the extension would see 720 homes flattened and affect eight listed buildings.

Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews welcomed the report saying: "I think the report we received today is good news for trade, for jobs and for the UK as a whole."

However, Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the South East, said: "The political opposition to airport expansion in south east England is sadly melting away.

"There's no doubt that the Government will be pleased with this report. It gives them the cover they need to go on avoiding answering difficult questions on airport expansion and to prepare themselves for a colossal U-turn on Heathrow expansion."

The idea of expansion at Gatwick, which is currently running at 85% of its capacity and full capacity at peak times, has also met with opposition. It would be built to the south of the existing runway.

Georgia Wrighton, director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in Sussex, said: "A second runway at Gatwick, together with sprawling development and car parks anticipated on a massive scale, would concrete over cherished open countryside."

The report did not include options for a new runway for Stansted or Birmingham airports, as had been suggested.

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