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Airports Commission recommends Heathrow for expansion

Words: Laura Edgar
Heathrow Airport / iStock_000050552194

A report by the Airports Commission says London’s airports are “showing unambiguous signs of strain”, and concludes that expanding runway capacity at Heathrow is the best option.

All of the three schemes shortlisted were deemed credible by the independent commission.

A new airport in the Thames Estuary, supported by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is described as being appealing in theory, however, it is dismissed as “unfeasibly expensive, highly problematic in environmental terms and “hugely disruptive for many businesses and communities”.

Gatwick, says the report, creates a “plausible case for expansion”. 

Recommendations made by the report to limit the impact on the local community include:

* Ban on all scheduled night flights between 11.30pm to 6.00am

* No fourth runway

* A legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport

* 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

But although the airport is described as being well placed to cater for growth in intra-European leisure flying, it is regarded as unlikely to provide the accessibility to what UK businesses most want - long-haul destinations to new markets.

Heathrow, on the other hand, said Sir Howard Davies, economist and commission chair, could meet the criteria.

“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.”

He added that additional capacity at Heathrow would provide an opportunity to change the airport’s relationship with its local communities.

The commission admits that its favoured proposal - expansion at Heathrow - has high costs, but would be “financeable by the private sector, in our judgement and that of investors”.

A new Heathrow runway would, says the report, cost £17.6 billion to deliver, while a new runway at Gatwick would cost just over £7 billion.

In a statement Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said the debate had never been about a runway, but about “the future we want for Britain”.

“Our new plans have been designed around the needs of local communities and will meet carbon, air quality and noise targets, and provide the greatest benefit to the UK’s connectivity and its long-term economic growth.

“We will create the world’s best-connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport at the heart of an integrated transport system.”

Gatwick’s CEO Stewart Wingate remained optimistic, though, and said Gatwick Airport is still in the race.

“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.”

He expressed confidence that the government would choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option, highlighting the “very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow, such as air quality and noise impact”.

Gatwick, Wingate said, would give the country the economic benefits it needs while affecting fewer people.

“It is quicker, simpler and quieter. Above all - after decades of delay - it can actually happen.”


“This is far from the end of the story. The final decision will be taken by the government. Given the strength of opposition there is to Heathrow within the Cabinet, the final chapter could contain a sting in the tail.

“Gatwick could emerge as the final choice by Christmas.”

John Stewart, HACAN* chair

* HACAN is a campaigning organisation to provide a voice for those under Heathrow flightpaths

“Now that all the evidence is on the table, firms in every corner of the UK want to see an irreversible government commitment to a new runway at Heathrow by the end of 2015, with planning complete and diggers on the ground by the end of this Parliament in 2020.

“Business long ago ran out of patience. The government cannot afford to delay airport expansion any further if it is serious about Britain punching above its weight on the global stage. That means delivering a new runway at Heathrow now, and leaving the door open to subsequent expansion at Gatwick, Stansted and key regional airports as well.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce

“As the UK’s only international air hub, it’s the logical and practical place to expand. Every new destination with regularly scheduled flights at Heathrow supports 3,000 jobs. Growth of Heathrow’s international hub capacity is essential for the long-term resilience of London.

“By connecting more effectively with other emerging and growing economies, growth at Heathrow supports the UK’s growth.

“The Commission’s finding that there is sufficient demand to justify a second additional runway by 2050 leaves the door open for expansion at Gatwick. Like Heathrow, Gatwick is an airport that is also constrained by lack of runway capacity.

“The best way forward for London, the region and the country is to allow both Heathrow and Gatwick to expand. Expanding both airports is the most viable way to address the UK’s aviation capacity before London falls further behind its global competitors in Europe and the Middle East.”

Christopher Choa, UK director at AECOM

“If the Heathrow runway recommendation is accepted, the likely next step is to draft and consult on an airports National Policy Statement (NPS) under the Planning Act 2008 rather than use a hybrid Act procedure, such as used for HS2, which the Transport Secretary accepts has been delayed . A Development Consent Order application could be worked up whilst an NPS is being prepared but it would still take two to three years before there is a consent for the south east.

“The implementation of the report would be an important first step to improving the whole of UK's overall aviation capacity and connectivity strategy, a pre-requirement to compete effectively on the world stage. The Transport Secretary has also stressed today that connectivity from regional airports to Heathrow is of critical importance.  Further delays will only do harm to both the UK’s economy and reputation on the world stage.”

Kevin Gibbs, partner at Bond Dickinson

“Much of the UK’s logistics network exists around Heathrow and this is centric to the growth of various industries. Supporting this growth is vital and the expansion of Heathrow will be great news for industrial development with increased capacity and an expanded variety of connections.”

Lee Sheldon, partner and co-head of real estate at Addleshaw Goddard