Speaking at the launch of the Airports Commission’s final report in Westminster was:
- Airports Commission Chair Sir Howard Davies
Delivering the final report of his Commission on airport expansion, Sir Howard said all commission members had reached a unanimous recommendation on building a third runway at Heathrow.
The Airports Commission had been given a remit of maintaining the UK’s position as a leading aviation hub, he said, noting it had concluded passenger demand would continue to grow.
Sir Howard said the UK’s leading airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, were either full or nearly full.
Regional flights from London had been squeezed out, with only seven UK regional airports having direct routes to Heathrow, he said.
“There is a clear need for additional capacity”, Sir Howard declared, noting that expanding regional airports or relying on High Speed 2 alone would not solve the problem.
He did not believe it was possible to escape the conclusion that a new runway was needed in the South East of England.
Addressing concerns on climate change, Sir Howard believed a new runway could be accommodated within the Climate Change Act through improved efficiencies in flights.
“One net new runway is what we need and can afford in climate change terms”, he outlined.
Sir Howard noted some people would have called for more runways to be built. However, he felt that concerns about climate change and capped emissions could prohibit any new capacity being used.
In addition, a private aviation system did not allow new runways to be constructed far in advance and only if it showed a strong return for investors, the Commission Chair explained.
He added that Stansted Airport had not been considered as a “preferable solution” and noted calls for an Estuary Airport would require significant investment.
“We have concluded that a new North West runway at Heathrow is the best option”, Sir Howard declared, citing the economic and agglomeration benefits.
He also referred to Heathrow’s potential to develop long-term routes to better compete with emerging European competitor airports.
Sir Howard said Heathrow also enjoyed better surface connectivity, noting Gatwick would require greater investment. The former offered more benefits to air freight as well.
Turning to local opposition, he insisted expansion offered the chance to make Heathrow a “better neighbour to its local communities because it is bigger”.
An additional runway would require all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, to be banned, Sir Howard said.
He said there should be no fourth runway at Heathrow and believed the Government should make a firm commitment, through legislation, not to expand the airport further. There was no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow, he affirmed.
The Airports Commission was also calling for a legally-binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport.
Sir Howard also pointed to the recommendation of a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities.
He also discussed a legal commitment on air quality to ensure that new capacity would only be released when it was clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed.
There should also be a Community Engagement Board, under an independent Chair, with real influence over spending on mitigation and compensation and over the airport’s operations.
Sir Howard also called for the establishment of independent aviation noise authority, with a statutory right to be consulted on flightpaths and other operating procedures at all UK airports.
Finally, there should be a provision of training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people, so that nearby communities benefited from the expansion process.
Sir Howard praised the Heathrow Hub as an “imaginative scheme”, but noted that investors were prepared to invest in a third runway and would offer fewer new flight paths.
Gatwick had put forward a “well-articulated proposal”, but whilst the project was financially viable, the economic benefits would be smaller than Heathrow’s, he said.
“The Government must now make a decision”, Sir Howard said.
The press conference was then opened up to questions from journalists.
Addressing a query from the Daily Mail, Sir Howard dismissed reports that the Airports Commission had “fudged” its final recommendation and had delivered a clear verdict.
He reiterated the Commission’s verdict that a new runway at Heathrow would be the best.
Questioned by the Financial Times, Sir Howard explained that whilst there were breaches in air quality standards around Heathrow, it was possible to address these.
He believed congestion charges could be introduced around Heathrow, as opposed to staggering flights.
Tackling the issue of legal challenges, Sir Howard affirmed his believe the report was “legally defensible”, disclosing that the Commission had legal advice to that end.
“If the Government makes a decision in the next few months, a runway could be open by 2026,” he told the press conference.
Queried by the Guardian over the need for public investment on surface action, Sir Howard said the Commission had believed £5bn could be needed, but added that some of this could come from private sector investment.
He reiterated his belief that a fourth Heathrow runway should be ruled out because of operational and environmental concerns.
On the issue of air quality, Sir Howard said the Commission had undertaken a short consultation on the North West runway and found it would manageable with mitigations. In contrast, the mitigations necessary for extending the Northern runway were less clear.
He added that whilst the Commission had not recommended it in the final report, a congestion charge could be used to tackle air pollution near Heathrow.
Later in the press conference, Sir Howard emphasised that there was a “balancing act” facing Heathrow between the needs of passengers and local residents.
On the question of fares, he explained expansion would likely lead to a £4bn reduction in airfares. In addition, planned expansion of flights by airlines such as easyJet from Heathrow would help to bring fares down.
Sir Howard emphasised the benefits that a competitive airports system would bring to passengers, stating that the Commission did not want to see a “monster airport” created in London. Other airports around the city would be to take the strain of passenger demand whilst the new runway was being built at Heathrow.
Questioned by Channel 4 News, Sir Howard said the opinion polls around expanding Heathrow expansion were “balanced” and hoped the Government would look beyond the views of “a few colourful individuals”, like London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had nailed their colours to certain projects.
Mike Indian is Political Consultant and a member of DeHavilland’s Content team, leading on infrastructure and Scottish affairs. He leads on DeHavilland's dynamic content, specifically videos and podcasts, and regularly appears in the media as a political commentator. A graduate of Lancaster University, he has worked as a freelance journalist.