The Financial Times newspaper has been told by an unnamed Whitehall source that when Sir Howard Davies delivers his final recommendations on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick, the government’s response will be merely to acknowledge receipt. No decision will be taken before the end of the year.
With Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith emerging as the strongest candidate for the Conservative nomination as next Mayor of London, and man mostly likely to succeed Boris Johnson, the prospect of Heathrow getting the nod is diminishing by the day, regardless of what Davies and his review team recommend.
The Airports Commission was set up in 2012 under the chairmanship of Sir Howard Davies to review future airport runway requirements in the southeast of England and to recommend ways forward. The option of building a new airport to the east of London, in the Thames or Medway estuaries, was ruled out last year. The Commission’s final shortlist, published last November, was:
- a new 3.5km runway at Heathrow Airport, to the northwest of the current northern runway (cost: £18.6bn)
- extending Heathrow’s northern runway to the west, and splitting it in the middle to create two northern runways, each 3km long, with a 650m safety area in between, enabling it to be operated as two separate runways (cost £13.5bn)
- a second runway at Gatwick Airport, built to the south of, and parallel to, the current runway (cost: £9.3bn).
Zac Goldsmith has promised that he would resign his parliamentary seat and trigger a by-election should Heathrow expansion be approved by the government. Boris Johnson, current London mayor and new MP for Uxbridge, is also dead against any Heathrow expansion. Various members of Cabinet are said to feel equally strongly about the issue.
Therefore, whatever the Davies Commission recommends, the government has little room for manoeuvre other than to support Gatwick’s expansion aspirations.
As far as the construction industry is concerned, it seems not to care what the decision is just so long as there is plenty of new asphalt to be laid somewhere. Or as the Civil Engineering Contractors Association’s chief executive Alasdair Reisner said, on reading his FT this morning: “Aviation is extremely important to UK economic growth and without it, global business opportunities would be reduced. We know that there is a pressing need for more airport capacity in the southeast and this reported delay simply kicks the decision further into the long grass.
“The UK economy loses nearly £1.2bn a year because of a lack of major airport capacity. Unless the congestion problem is addressed now, the UK will become a less attractive place to do business with and to visit.”