1 Jul 2015

Heathrow third runway: business says ‘pick up the shovel’

It’s taken a three year-long investigation but today the Airports Commission announced what many had been expecting. That a third runway at Heathrow is the preferred option to expand Britain’s airport capacity.

Sir Howard Davies said a new northwest runway at Heathrow was the “clear and unanimous” choice and said it would add £147bn of economic growth and 70,000 new jobs within the next 35 years.


Many had expected Sir Howard to leave the door open to Gatwick which had been one of the three options on the shortlist for expansion. And while the commission agreed Gatwick was feasible, it concluded “the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller.”

Sir Howard 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.”

There was some wiggle room, however, given Sir Howard said Heathrow would only get the green light if it could clear a series of hurdles including a legal commitments on noise and air pollution and a ban on all night flights – although these are all areas that Heathrow would claim to have covered in its submission.

There was also a recommendation that the government promises not to expand Heathrow with a fourth runway in the future.

‘Pick up the shovel’

Business will certainly welcome the decision with open arms. Heathrow had always been its preferred choice given the airport is a hub and already provides links to long-haul international destinations.

It’s big issue was these routes desperately need to be expanded, to more emerging, high-growth markets in Latin America and Asia. And Sir Howard reckons that 40 such new routes can now open up.

The resounding response from business today is ‘pick up the shovel and get going’. But it’s important to remember that all this, for now, is all theorising.

We have been here many times before with airports expansion and given its deeply political nature, the plans have always always ended up being shelved. And this time around is no different.

David Cameron may well rue the day he declared no third runway “no ifs, no buts” as he stood alongside Greenpeace planting trees on the proposed site in 2009 – though he will be at great pains to say this proposal – backed by an independent commission – is an entirely different one to the plans put forward back then.

He will face intense pressure by a powerful cabal of MPs including Philip Hammond, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith, Justine Greening among others.

The London mayor has already this morning described the Heathrow decision as “the wrong answer to the wrong question” and insisted a third runway would never be built.

But Sir Howard urged the prime minister to crack on. 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.”

However Sir Howard’s recommendation is not binding and a decision is expected to take at least until the autumn – a very long time in politics.

And don’t forget the price tag. Sir Howard has opted for the most expensive option of the lot – at nearly £18 billion – as the next round of government austerity cuts is about to kick in.

Follow @siobhankennedy4 on Twitter.

Tweets by @siobhankennedy4