Davies backs Heathrow for economic benefit but demands operation change

To the surprise of no one, the Airports Commission today recommended that Heathrow’s north west runway option should be built to provide additional capacity for the south east required by 2030. The commission said that the Heathrow option selected would give greater economic benefit with less local impact and that Gatwick, while credible, would provide extra inter Europe connectivity, mainly for holiday flights, that would be of far less economic benefit to UK GDP.

Sir Howard Davies

Anticipating howls of objection from senior MPs and the London Mayor Commission chair Sir Howard Davies challenged them to reconsider by saying that the issue is “very salient” internationally, with the world watching to see if the country is prepared to step up to the plate in terms of maintaining its position, and economic strength, as a world hub.

“The Commission urges Government to move as quickly as it can to a decision. 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.”

Long haul connectivity and the opportunity to open new routes to the world’s new centres of economic growth are crucial to the UK economy, he said, along with building on Heathrow as the country’s centre for international air freight. “Is London prepared to make the decisions it needs to remain a global city?” he asked.

“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” Davies said.

“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.

“And as there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway, the government should take action in Parliament to rule it out firmly and finally.”

Davies stressed the need for a quick decision by Government.

“The Prime Minister has a different proposition to look at today,” - Davies

The government will need to review our analysis carefully,” he said. “The Commission urges it not to prolong this process, however, and to move as quickly as it can to a decision. 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.”

The Commission said that each of the three schemes shortlisted – Heathrow north west, Heathrow hub and Gatwick - was considered a credible option for expansion.But it had unanimously concluded that the proposal for a new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport, combined with a significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts, presented the strongest case and offered the greatest strategic and economic benefits, generating up to £147bn in GDP.

A new runway at Heathrow would provide around 40 new destinations from the airport and more than 70,000 new jobs by 2050. And with new operational requirements, it claimed that a new northwest runway at Heathrow will not increase noise above current levels.

The report describes the strengths and weaknesses of the other short-listed proposals.

“The Heathrow extended northern runway delivers similar economic benefits, is less costly and requires the loss of fewer homes. But it provides a smaller increase in capacity and is less attractive from a noise and air quality perspective,” the commission said.

“The Gatwick scheme is feasible, but the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller.”

The final report says the number of long-haul destinations at an expanded Gatwick would be at most four higher in 2030 than it would be if no new capacity is added and by 2050 only 1 higher, and at national level long-haul capacity would only increase by up to 5 million seats; this compares to up to 12 additional long-haul destinations at an expanded Heathrow and up to 16 million extra seats nationally.

Davies also pointed out that only seven UK regional airports currently connect to Heathrow with 23 having to fly to Schipol in Amsterdam to allow passengers to pick up international connections. A new runway at Heathrow would allow domestic traffic access to international routes from the UK currently denied to them.

In response to reports that Prime Minister David Cameron stands by is opposition to the new runway stated in 2009, Davies said that the commission’s recommendation is a fundamentally different proposition from previous proposals to expand at Heathrow.

“It delivers a full-length runway, maximising the connectivity gain. It is situated further west than the current runways, which will help to reduce the number of people affected by noise. And it is accompanied by strong measures to limit the impacts on those living nearby”,  the commission said.

“The Prime Minister has a different proposition to look at today,” Davies said.

New operation measures that would be demanded if a new runway is built include:

  • a ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, which is only possible with expansion
  • no fourth runway: the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further - there is no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow
  • a legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport
  • a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities
  • a legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will only be released when it is clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed
  • a Community Engagement Board, under an independent chair, with real influence over spending on mitigation and compensation and over the airport’s operations
  • an independent aviation noise authority, with a statutory right to be consulted on flightpaths and other operating procedures at all UK airports
  • provision of training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people, so that nearby communities benefit from the jobs and economic opportunities

“The Commission’s recommendations will ensure that an expanded Heathrow can be a better neighbour for local communities than the airport is today, while strengthening international connectivity, enhancing access from the UK’s nations and regions, improving productivity and delivering substantial long-term economic and strategic benefits for the country as a whole. The government can and should use ‘public service obligations’ to support a widespread network of links from Heathrow to other UK airports,” the final report said.

The strength of Heathrow’s freight operation helped swing the commission behind expansion there. “Heathrow is the country’s largest air freight hub, carrying more freight by value than all the other UK airports combined. The long-haul links that an expanded Heathrow can provide will support long-term growth in this sector, which plays an important role in supporting trade, including with emerging markets,” it said.

Responding to concerns about air quality, Davies said that the Government has been required by the European Court to deliver a national plan on air quality and Heathrow would sit within that.

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