Splits on the runway

In light of the long awaited Airports Commission recommendations on airport expansion in the south east of England, Freshwater’s public affairs team looks at the debate surrounding a potential third runway at Heathrow…

Three years after being commissioned by David Cameron to end the decades of wrangling over airport expansion in the south east of England, Sir Howard Davies, chair of the Airports Commission, has returned with his final report. The result is a recommendation that the third runway to the north west of Heathrow Airport, should be built.

Sir Howard stated that all three options; a third Heathrow runway, the extension of the North Heathrow runway; and a second runway at Gatwick, were credible schemes but the economic and trade benefits of an extra runway at Heathrow trumped the others. The choice of a third runway at Heathrow was the “clear and unanimous” choice when combined with a number of measures to combat the environmental and community-based drawbacks of the scheme.

The project would eventually lead to 40 new destinations for the airport and more than 70,000 jobs would be created by 2050. While the other two options involve lower costs and the loss of fewer homes, the third runway at Heathrow far exceeds the economic benefits of both.

The Commission has stated that strong measures must be implemented to make the expansion viable. These are aimed at limiting increases in air and noise pollution from the increased capacity, as well as minimising the impact on those who live in surrounding areas. They include banning all scheduled flights between 11.30pm and 6am, a levy to supply surrounding homes and schools with soundproofing and firm limits on levels of noise created by the airport.

However, the report has not touched on the fact that air quality levels around Heathrow are already in breach of European standards. This is a problem which should be addressed before further developments take place.

There has been a mixed reaction to the report. The CBI came out in support of the recommendations, urging the government that “each day the government delays expansion, the UK loses more to its competitors.”

The TUC also welcomed the report as increased airport capacity “supports high-skilled jobs and economic growth”, while recognising that the effects on the environment must be considered. Both the Welsh and the Scottish governments have supported the project to varying degrees, with the Welsh Government hoping its strong aerospace sector can profit.

The Labour Party seem to approve of the recommendations with certain provisions. It urged the government to push ahead with the proposals as long as measures involving pollution and nationwide benefits are met by the expansion.

On the other hand, the Campaign for Better Transport has joined prominent anti-Heathrow expansion MPs, such as Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, in opposing the recommendation.

The current mayor of London called it “highly predictable, short-termist and completely politically undeliverable.” Mr. Johnson also commented on many of the measures suggested by Sir Howard and described the pledge to cut noise pollution as “hokum”.

While both MPs prefer the option of expansion in other areas of London, the Campaign for Better Transport supports a new ‘Frequent Flyer Levy’ which they claim would negate the need for any increase in capacity due to limiting the amount of people travelling in the first place.

While many commentators feared that after three years of the Commission, the final report would leave the door wide open for interpretation, this has not been the case. Sir Howard has
emphatically recommended the third runway at Heathrow to be built as soon as possible to avoid the UK losing out on further increased revenue.

However, it is clear from the objections of some Conservative
MPs, including a few in the Cabinet, that the situation will only cause problems for the prime minister. Zac Goldsmith claims he will force a by-election by standing down if the plans go ahead, and it is likely to cause a rift in the Cabinet when discussions on the expansion take place. These factors could have a significant impact on the government’s ability to implement the recommendations in full.

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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017