The UK’s Airports Commission has recommended a third runway at Heathrow airport while a second runway at Gatwick is described as a ‘credible’ option’. Expansion of the west London hub would add £147 billion (€207 billion) in economic growth by 2050, according to the report. It would also connect the UK to more than 40 new destinations around the world including 10-12 new long-haul routes. An expansion at Heathrow would also allow the airport to double its freight capacity to three million tonnes.
The report says a new runway – estimated to cost nearly £17.6 billion, to be funded by the private sector – is “critical to British trade and manufacturing, particularly in highly technical industries such as pharmaceuticals”.
“In 2014, the total value of tradeable goods carried through UK airports exceeded £140 billion. With the world economy’s centre of gravity moving eastward and global supply chains becoming more complex, air connections will be ever more important in establishing access to key export markets for UK firms.”
But the report’s author, Howard Davies said that the new runway should come with severe restrictions to reduce the environmental and noise effects. Night flights would be banned and the government would make a Parliamentary pledge not to build a fourth runway at the airport. An aviation noise levy would fund insulation for homes and schools and a legal commitment would be made on air quality.
Howard said that a second runway at Gatwick was a “credible” option but was less able to provide connections to long-haul destinations and would create lower levels of economic growth. The Commission described building a second runway at Gatwick as feasible, “but the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller”. A third option for extending the present runways at Heathrow was rejected.
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 north-west 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.
The Commission also urged the UK government to review the “significant” volume of technical material carefully but not to delay the process. “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 21st century.”
His comments were echoed by the Confederation of British Industry, which said: “Growing airport capacity is vital for the UK’s economy, yet as we delay, our competitors are using their spare capacity to gain new trade and business. We cannot afford to delay the UK’s economic future any longer.”