Heathrow still faces a fight for its third runway to be finalised, despite being recommended by Sir Howard Davies’ independent airports commission yesterday.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin accepted that the issues are “not easy to resolve”, and local residents showed no sign of dropping their fight after Davies made his announcement.
An activist group called the Teddington Action Group has already begun the process that could lead to a judicial review of what it considers to be a flawed consultation process. The group has accused Davies of having a preconceived bias towards Heathrow.
The group’s Paul McGuinness told City A.M. that Davies’ appointment as chairman of RBS clouded his judgement on airports:
Two of RBS’ most important clients are Heathrow and Gatwick. Throughout the most sensitive period of thecommission’s work, he has been lined up to take the top job at the bank which has a direct financial interest in the recommendation.
The commission must answer the group’s initial pre-action protocol letter by today.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England also blasted the commission, with transport campaign manager Ralph Smyth saying that “it was clear that its terms of reference were rigged from the start”.
Some City analysts, however, see the business case for Heathrow expansion. Liberum’s Gerald Khoo told City A.M.: “Heathrow always seemed to have the stronger case.”
“It’s where the airlines, especially the long haul carriers, have gravitated,” he added, explaining that “Heathrow delivers higher yields, better revenues, for the airlines.”
Khoo said that if the recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow was to be followed by the government, it would be “helpful for EasyJet”.
“It does very well at Gatwick,” he explained. “It is hard for other airlines to get a slot, which means it is hard for airlines like
Ryanair to have a run at EasyJet.”
The government is in no huge rush to make its final decision, which will be hugely controversial despite calls from various business groups.
McLoughlin said that the government “will come back to parliament in the autumn to provide a clear direction on the government’s plans”.
The secretary of state also vowed there was “a guarantee there will be no fourth runway”, but this is unlikely to placate worried and angry residents in south west London.
Gatwick finance boss Nick Dunn continued to insist yesterday that his airport remains “still very much in the race”. Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said it is “the only deliverable option.”
Despite decades of delay, and now a commission lasting three years and costing £20m, airport expansion still faces a long haul until it is finally completed.