Gatwick goes to war over Heathrow runway decision

Aug 20, 2015

Sir Howard Davies says latest attack does Gatwick and its boss Stewart Wingate "no credit"

Nobody believed the Airports Commission's decision to recommend a third runway at Heathrow would end the saga of airport expansion – and the UK's second largest hub, Gatwick, is going out of its way to ensure that it is not.

The West Sussex airport's management has issued a strongly worded dossier deriding the work of the commission, led by incoming Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir Howard Davies. They say the report, which took three years to produce, was based on weak data and offers little or no rationale for its final verdict.

According to the Daily Telegraph the 50-page rebuke, the second it has issued since the decision was made public in July, says the commissions findings "suffer from omissions or superficial analysis in some critical areas" and are based on "incorrect" traffic estimates.

Heathrow's new runway will cost some £17.6bn to build, plus a further £5bn in transport infrastructure upgrades, compared to costs of £7.1bn and £800m for Gatwick. But the commission found that opening up new long-haul destinations for business users by adding capacity to Heathrow could boost the economy by £150bn over 60 years and create 700,000 jobs. Gatwick says these economic forecasts were based on estimates by PricewaterhouseCoopers that are "unsound".

Stringer defended his report, the Telegraph reports, arguing that the Gatwick paper "appears to repeat many points" made to the commission, which were "carefully considered". He said that Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate's use of  "colourful language… does not turn weak points into strong ones, and does him and his company no credit".

Gatwick also points to "undisputed" figures showing expansion of its rival will affect an additional 320,000 with noise pollution, compared with only 18,000 more if it was granted a second runway. However, GetSurrey reports that the airport has been forced to withdraw advertisements quoting these figures as it failed to make "the basis of its comparisons clear".

Heathrow third runway fight is just getting started

3 August

Plans to build a third runway at Heathrow have attracted fresh criticism – and from a surprising source.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways owner International Airlines Group, whom The Guardian states was once a "prominent backer" of the proposal to expand the UK's largest airport, has launched a stinging attack on the £17.6bn cost of the new runway, saying it "cannot be justified on any basis".

Speaking in the wake of the company's half-year results being published late last week, Walsh said IAG's airlines, which account for more than half of the landing slots at Heathrow, did not ask for new infrastructure which is "not fit for purpose" and so would not pay another 50 per cent on top of airport fees of £800m to £900m a year to fund it. He said the issue of financing was "glossed over" and that a debate "hasn't really started yet".

A final decision will be made by a parliamentary commission chaired by David Cameron. It already has the backing of an independent review chaired by Howard Davies, which said the project could generate a £150bn boost to GDP over 60 years.

But there is strong political opposition, too. Conservative MP and Mayor of London Boris Johnson is a vocal dissenter, campaigning again in the Sunday Telegraph this week for the building of a new "four-runway hub" airport in the Thames Estuary. However, unlike fellow MP and mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, Johnson has said he will not stand down as an MP if Heathrow is chosen.

Jeremy Corbyn, frontrunner in the Labour leadership campaign, has said he too is against the plans, The Independent reports. His rivals Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have all come out in favour of the new runway, provided certain environmental safeguards are imposed.

Labour's position is significant as the Government may need opposition votes to win parliamentary approval. But with the SNP backing the plan, the chairman of the Tories' influential 1922 committee of backbenchers told the Telegraph that only around 50 MPs would be expected to vote against expansion.

Heathrow third runway edges closer as opponents left out

23 July

Heathrow could be a step closer to getting its controversial third runway after key political opponents including Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond were left out of the committee which will make the final decision.

The BBC reports the airports sub-committee will by chaired by prime minister David Cameron. Among other senior figures are Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Environment Secretary Liz Truss and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd.

Critics of the Heathrow plans immediately pointed to the absence of the home and foreign secretaries, who represent constituencies under the proposed flight path. Other known dissenters were also left out, including International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands.

The government rejected any suggestion it had weighted the committee to those less likely to oppose the new runway and insisted it had merely chosen ministers with the strongest direct policy interest in the decision. Against this the BBC points to a decision to include Scotland Secretary David Mundell but not Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, another Heathrow opponent.

A third runway was given strong backing by an independent commission earlier this month but the final decision rests with the government. The prime minister is in a difficult position after he said in 2009 that he would oppose expansion at Heathrow, "no ifs and no buts".

Opposition within his own party is also strong. London Mayor Boris Johnson once threatened to lie in front of bulldozers and Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, who has said he will stand to be Johnson's successor, threatened to resign if the plans go ahead.

Goldsmith told the Daily Telegraph that if the decision to exclude the home and foreign secretaries reflects a lack of confidence that they will act in the national interests, then logically the prime minister should "fire them both immediately".

Heathrow expansion 'best option' but Gatwick runway 'plausible'

01 July

The long-awaited report on UK airport capacity has, as expected, endorsed the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport, while leaving the government wiggle-room to back a "feasible" rival plan to expand Gatwick

In its final report, the five-person Airports Commission gives "unanimous" backing to a controversial new runway at Britain's largest aviation hub, beating off shortlisted alternatives including extending an existing runway at Heathrow or building a second runway at Gatwick.

Heathrow expansion is preferred as it would enable the UK to exploit greater "long-haul links to new markets" that would maximise economic benefits. The £17bn project could generate a £150bn boost to GDP over 60 years and 70,000 new jobs, the report claims.

Although it was a cheaper option delivering "similar economic benefits" and resulting in the loss of fewer homes – 242 compared to 783, including " the entire community of Longford and much of Harmondsworth" – extending the northern runway at the airport was rejected as it "provides a smaller increase in capacity and is less attractive from a noise and air quality perspective".

Video: what the commission has recommended


Gatwick, which according to The Guardian, presents a "plausible case for expansion", was not chosen despite only requiring the loss of 167 homes as it is was deemed to focus capacity increases on short-haul destinations.

The Independent says the report will "fail to settle the debate". Channel Four's political editor writes in a blog post that the report represents a "steaming pile of poo" for Prime Minister David Cameron, who pledged in 2009 to block a third runway at Heathrow and faces mounting opposition from ministers and key backbenchers.

Within hours, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is backing a new airport on the Thames Estuary, had told The BBC that the Heathrow runway "will not happen". His prospective successor Zac Goldsmith told LBC Radio he would resign his seat if it was chosen.  

There is stringent opposition to Gatwick, too. The Independent says eight Tory MPs representing seats near the airport vehemently oppose a second runway. Environmental campaigners have stepped up their call for no capacity extension and new taxes to stem demand.

The Commission said development at Heathrow should come with conditions to lessen environmental impact, including no overnight flights and a community engagement board.


Heathrow expansion: report unlikely to end wrangle

29 June

The long-awaited report that will advise the government whether to expand either Heathrow or Gatwick may not settle the dispute, which looks set to drag on well into 2016.

Reports this morning in both the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail suggest that the Airports Commission, set up in 2012 and chaired by the former chairman of the financial services regulator Sir Howard Davies, is set to recommend building a third runway at Heathrow. But they also say that the option of building at Gatwick will not be 'ruled out'.

This would leave the decision to David Cameron, who had initially ruled out a third runway at Heathrow back in 2010, and who faces a battle with ministers and influential backbenchers elected by London constituencies that would be affected by the Heathrow plans.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Theresa May, International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and his heir apparent Zac Goldsmith are all expected to fight Heathrow expansion.

The Independent reports that the government will decide by the end of this year whether to accept the Davies review's Heathrow recommendation or to opt for an alternative. It cites Whitehall sources hinting the decision could be put back further still, until after the 2016 London mayoral election.

Last week The Guardian reported comments from the bosses of both Heathrow and Gatwick, who said that their campaigns would not end when the Davies commission published its findings.

Last year the Airports Commission ruled out all other options to meet aviation demand in the UK, including the expansion of Stansted or an all-new airport.

Environmental campaigners have continued to argue for a reduction in demand instead of an increase in capacity. A coalition of anti-expansion campaign groups recently wrote to The Observer suggesting that air passenger duty should be replaced with a "frequent flyer levy" to cut flights.

Heathrow expansion: will the Tories fast-track a new runway?

27 May

Business leaders in the UK have urged the new Conservative government to fast-track plans for a new runway in the southeast of England. But the group doesn't answer the big question: where should the runway be built?

Bosses from Aberdeen Asset Management, Associated British Foods, Harrods, ICAP and other major firms signed an open letter distributed by pro-runway lobby group Let Britain Fly, says financial news agency Bloomberg.

 The letter insists that a new runway is needed to boost tourism, trade, investment and general economic growth. Many political opponents of airport expansion have been swept away by an electoral tsunami, even if some high-profile refuseniks remain.

So where will it be built? The government-commissioned Davies Commission is due to report within a few weeks. It has already ruled out building an entirely new east of London – but expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick is still on the cards.

Last month, ITV reported that campaigners who want a third runway at Heathrow claim 100,000 local residents now supported the plan. But opponents of the £18bn scheme insisted it would devastate the area.

More recently, the Financial Times observed that many senior opponents of a third runway at Heathrow had been "blown away by the electorate". As MP for Twickenham, Vince Cable had spearheaded opposition.

Now Cable is political history – and the Lib Dems, who had made a manifesto promise to oppose all new runways, are reduced to just eight MPs. The paper quoted one source in the industry as saying: "The stars are lining up for us now."

As for Labour, Ed Miliband had opposed the third runway. While he is no longer leader, his shadow transport minister, Michael Dugher, remains in his post and is a supporter of the runway.

But the paper noted that there was still "heartfelt opposition" from some Conservative MPs. Most notable, perhaps, is Boris Johnson, newly-chosen to represent Uxbridge and South Ruislip, slap bang under the Heathrow flight-path.

In his election address, Johnson, who remains mayor of London, promised to "lie down in front of the bulldozers" – even though the scheme he backed of building a new hub on land reclaimed from the Thames Estuary, dubbed Boris Island, has been ruled out.


Option 1: Build a third runway at Heathrow

Increasing Heathrow's capacity by building a third runway seems an obvious solution. The idea was championed by successive Labour governments and formalised by a 2003 white paper calling for the construction of a new landing strip by 2015. The Tories have been opposed to a third runway - David Cameron criticised Gordon Brown in 2008 for "pig-headedly" pressing ahead with the plan -and the newly-elected Coalition made a promise in 2010 that there would be no expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. However, there are signs that the Conservatives' resistance is weakening. Late last year, Cameron said he wouldn't renege on his manifesto pledge to oppose a third runway "in this parliament", but didn't rule out supporting the idea in the future.

What are arguments in favour of a third runway?

Supporters of a third runway say it would be cheaper and quicker to build than a brand new airport. In a submission to the Airports Commission in July, Heathrow argued that the "£14bn-£18bn" cost of an extra runway was "cheaper than any rival hub option".

A third runway would provide economic benefits to the UK worth £100bn, the submission says. That is more than the benefits from either Crossrail or HS2. Each of the three third runway options outlined in the report "could be turned into a four runway solution should the demand increase in future," the submission says. "This is a more cost effective solution than building a new four-runway airport from scratch when we may never need one."

What are the main arguments against the extra runway?

A sharp rise in air and noise pollution is the main reason a third runway is strongly opposed by many people, particularly those living under flight paths. Heathrow currently exposes 766,000 people to "severe noise" and that number will rise to almost a million if it expands. Statistics released by the Department of Transport in 2009 showed Heathrow was generating 50 per cent of UK aviation emissions and six per cent of the UK's total emissions. Opponents of the third runway argue that the expanded airport could be responsible for as much as 50 per cent of the UK's emissions by 2050. That raises a question, says BBC. In a world concerned about the environment, why should we assume that air traffic should simply continue to grow? Some opponents of the third runway believe the UK should stick with the flight capacity it has and "allow market forces to price out inessential flyers".

Third runway opponents have also argued that the economic case for expanding Heathrow has been "overstated". Former British Airways boss Bob Ayling told BBC that many of the passengers using the new runway would be in transit and spend "little or nothing" in London. Meanwhile, Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government said the runway would come to be seen as a white elephant because demand for flying will "fall away" as pressure to reduce carbon emissions increases.

Option 2: Expand Gatwick or Stansted

Although Boris Johnson has argued strongly for the creation of an all-new airport (see below), he has also spoken up for the expansion of Stansted. The mayor says the airport is in a good location to serve "key economic centres" such as the City and Canary Wharf. Less than 40,000 people would be affected by noise and pollution if Stansted was expanded into a hub and the bigger airport would create about 134,000 jobs. "It would be quicker to get to Stansted from Canary Wharf, the Lea Valley and other UK cities than to get to Heathrow," says the Standard. 

What's the argument against expanding Stansted?

The fact that Stansted is currently operating at "half its permitted capacity" suggests airlines don't want to use it, Carol Barbone, campaign director of Stop Stansted Expansion told the Daily Mail. "If the market was interested in using Stansted we would be seeing increasing passenger numbers rather than a month-on-month decline for the past five years," she said. BAA agrees, saying the construction of a second runway at Stansted would simply "increase the amount of spare capacity there".

What's the case for expanding Gatwick?

Writing in the London Evening Standard, Simon Jenkins says building a new runway at Gatwick is the best solution to the UK's most vexed infrastructure debate. The expansion would affect a relatively small number of residents and Gatwick's owners have already set out plans to start building a second runway in 2019. They are unable to begin work before then because of a "promise made to local councils in 1979". But Jenkins says the date should be brought forward because it would be a "less devastating betrayal than breaking yet another promise to the more numerous residents of west London".

Writes Jenkins: "The Isle of Grain will not happen. Heathrow cannot expand. Luton and other airports may take some of the pressure. But Gatwick it must be. If airlines do not like it, they can lump it."

What are the arguments against expanding Gatwick?

The Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) cites the impact on the environment and quality of life as key reasons why Gatwick shouldn't be expanded. But it adds another reason: the topography of the area means a new runway "won't work". A range of hills to the west and a main railway line to the east means the layout of a new runway would be "cramped and convoluted", GACC says.


Option 3: A brand new airport

A completely new airport has been ruled out by the Davies commission, but its proponents insist that it makes sense - because Heathrow, which began life as a private airfield, is badly located. Its flight paths send aircraft over heavily-populated parts of London which has implications for both safety and air and noise pollution.

The highest profile advocate of a new airport is London mayor Boris Johnson. He initially proposed the construction of a four-runway airport in the outer Thames Estuary, a project dubbed 'Boris Island' by the press. The location meant only 50 people would be affected by noise, but there were concerns about the impact on "biodiversity and natural habitats", says the London Evening Standard. Another worry was the fact that getting to the airport from central London would take 40 minutes even if a high-speed rail line was built.

Johnson still wants a new airport built, but his favoured site is now the Isle of Grain in the inner Thames Estuary. Built on reclaimed land, the airport would allow take offs and landings to take place over water. As a result, the number of people affected by noise would be low - "five per cent" of the people affected by an expanded Heathrow according to one estimate. A new high-speed rail line would transport passengers from central London to the airport in less than 30 minutes.

What are the arguments for a Thames Estuary airport?

Architects Foster + Partners, one of several firms that have proposed a design for the new airport, told The Engineer that the chance to "relieve 5 million Londoners of the noise, pollution and dangers of flight paths over the capital" was a key reason to build the new airport. It says it would be more "cost-effective" to build the facility in a "non-urban site" and it could operate 24-hours-a-day because a relatively low number of people would be affected by noise. The new airport could be built in the "same timeframe" as Heathrow's third runway, but it would offer far greater capacity - 110 million passengers per year within 16 years. By contrast, Heathrow's third runway would be at full capacity within a decade of the first plane taking off, the firm argues.

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One-Minute Read

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I think to build a third runway is better option instead of new airport because new one will cost much more as old one.

Your article is a joke! Why are none of the arguments against a new airport included? There are plenty of them.

Let me explain in English the old airport is a hazard and if a plane crashed would kill many people. Noise and air pollution will raise a legal battle that could take years to resolve.

Heathrow is outdated and cannot compete with a Modern airports that will post flights 24 hours a day and provide many more flight operators.

Land in London has become very valuable, with the current land mass at Heathrow it could yield a massive investment well into the future replacing the airport.

...for God's sake - let us get on and do SOMETHING! Cameron's "promises" and "pledges" are, as usual, empty and mendacious.

I would trust Boris Johnson far more on this matter. The least worst option would be, perhaps, an extra runway at Gatwick, notwithstanding the topography, followed by the inner Thames estuary option.

Heathrow should not even be in the frame - it was never envisaged to run at its current capacity and it is only a matter of time (no if's or but's about this one) before a fully laden passenger aircraft crashes into the middle of London - perhaps on Westminster itself (mixed feelings about that scenario).

Suzy444 - I agree. Do we really need all this vast expenditure on HS2 and now this!? Does the argument always have to concentrate on trade, business and money. Oh I suppose I have now generated a "but you do realise do you not that trade is our lifeblood and etc. rubbish" signed A Banker.