HEATHROW and Gatwick have been picked as the best sites for a new runway by the government’s Airports Commission – but the Boris-backed proposal for a hub in the Thames Estuary has been given a possible lifeline.
The independent commission left the Estuary plan off its shortlist yesterday, calling it “imaginative”, “uncertain” and “extremely expensive”– but added that it would continue to look at the idea while more data is gathered.
Sir Howard Davies and political insiders denied that the Mayor of London’s favoured plan was kept in play as a result of political pressure.
Daniel Moylan, Boris Johnson’s aviation adviser, maintained that the site near the Isle of Grain remains the likeliest home for a new hub. “Heathrow cannot have a third runway, it’s a proven political fact, we know it, it’s been tried before,” he told City A.M. “I think as the election approaches they will touch some electric wires and what you might perceive today as softening of a position will turn in all political parties [into] understanding the political undeliverability of the third runway of Heathrow.”
The panel also surprised Heathrow by including two options for its expansion: a third runway, or a longer northern runway. The second plan was submitted by a group of aviation veterans under the name of Heathrow Hub.
It is understood that Heathrow decided not to submit its own plan to extend a runway over concerns that it would allow less scope for alternating take-off sites, raising the prospect of more noise for residents. However, the airport will now work with the backers to look into the idea.
Sir Howard told journalists that “it remains an open question whether London will be better served in the long-run by a constellation of airports” rather than one dominant hub, throwing a second runway at Gatwick into the middle of the debate as the panel works towards a final decision in 2015.
Marion Dakers, Kate McCann