PROPOSALS to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport are set to take centre stage in the race for City Hall, as mayoral hopefuls plant their flags on all sides of the debate.
The Airports Commission’s recommendation yesterday to expand Heathrow has cut across party lines, with Conservative and Labour candidates split over the decision.
Tory front-runner Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park, has long opposed a third runway, even vowing to quit the Conservative party if the government backs the plan.
Yesterday, he roundly rejected the Davies report, saying, “Sir Howard Davies seems to have begun with a conclusion a few years ago, and spent £20m of public money justifying it.”
Fellow Tory hopeful Syed Kamall also attacked the proposal, saying, “London’s economic growth depends on a significant increase in airport capacity and that cannot be achieved with sticking plasters at Gatwick or Heathrow,” while Ivan Massow tweeted: “Heathrow not my 1st pref, but we should now stop squabbling and get on and build. Compensation and environmental conditions v important.”
On the Labour side, former shadow transport secretary Sadiq Khan recently changed his position from favouring to opposing Heathrow expansion, while popular Tottenham MP David Lammy said yesterday that the capital “cannot afford any more delays” in building the third runway. Tessa Jowell, meanwhile, took a more measured approach, saying that the Davies report “should be considered thoroughly” before making a choice.
Q&A: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THE GREAT AIRPORT DEBATE?
Q What did the Airports Commission do yesterday?
A After nearly three years of research and deliberation, the independent Airports Commission issued its recommendation to expand the country’s aviation capacity by building a third runway at London Heathrow Airport. The commission – which was chaired by Sir Howard Davies and is often called the “Davies commission” – unanimously chose to enlarge Heathrow, rejecting two other proposals to either extend an existing runway at Heathrow or build another runway at Gatwick airport, which currently has just one landing strip.
Q So, what happens next? Does this mean that a third runway will now be built at Heathrow?
A Not necessarily. The Davies report was a recommendation, not a decision. The responsibility now falls with the government to consider the commission’s proposals and issue its own decision. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that a decision “will be made by the end of the year,” while transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that the government would make a call in the autumn. For his part, Davies told reporters that “if the government gets on and makes a decision in the next few months, the new runway could be open by 2026.”
Q What about the proposals that Davies did not select? Could we still see another runway at Gatwick?
A Maybe. The government can reject Davies’s proposal, though that could prove politically unpopular, considering the report came at a £20m cost to the taxpayer. Interestingly, if the government backs the Davies recommendations in full, it will leave the door open to further expansion at Gatwick in the future. The Airports Commission recommended legally banning an eventual fourth runway at Heathrow, but said that future governments could consider building at Stansted and Gatwick, among other locations.
Q Assuming the government gets behind the Airports Commission’s recommendations later this year, what would happen after that?
A The proposals would need to be signed off by a majority of the House of Commons – which looks likely, given acting Labour leader Harriet Harman’s assurances yesterday that subject to certain tests, the opposition would vote in favour of Davies – and eventually implementation mechanisms would need to be put in place. Davies recommended setting up a joint oversight board or a dedicated government body to look after delivery of the project, from home sales to local planning approvals.