The UK Airports Commission has released its long-awaited report on expansion of the UK airport capacity, recommending a third runway be built at Heathrow. The final decision will be made by the British government.
The commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, decided unanimously that building an entirely new runway at London’s largest airport is the preferable option to solve the looming capacity crisis. The other options were an extension of an existing Heathrow runway and a new runway at Gatwick Airport, south of London.
“Over the past two and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely and followed an inclusive and integrated process,” Sir Howard said. “At the end of this extensive work programme, our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new Northwest Runway.”
Better transport links including railway and road infrastructure were named among the decisive factors in favour of Heathrow, as well as the airport’s better position to serve long-haul international flights to emerging destinations.
“Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long-haul destinations to new markets,” Sir Howard said. “It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.”
However, the recommendation comes with conditions. To make the expansion more acceptable for local community, Heathrow should be subject to stricter noise limits and ban night flights between 11.30pm and 6am. Local inhabitants should be provided with financial means to improve insulation, in order to decrease noise levels indoors.
The new runway, the first to be built in south-east England since the 1940s, will cost £17.6bn, generate up to £147bn in economic output over 60 years and create more than 70,000 jobs by 2050, the commission estimates.
The runway will enable adding daily services to around 40 new destinations including 10-12 new long-haul flights, said the commission.
The 242-page report also firmly ruled out the possibility of building a fourth runway at Heathrow at any point in the future.
The commission urged the government to make a decision about the expansion as soon as possible, as it would take at least ten years to get the infrastructure up and running.
“The Government will need to review our analysis carefully,” said Sir Howard. “The Commission urges it not to prolong this process, however, and to move as quickly as it can to a decision. Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected, open trading economy in the twenty-first century.”
Sir Howard warned that London's airports were showing signs of ‘strain’ and the entire system would be full by 2040 without action.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said his department will consider the report in detail.
Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye welcomed the decision, saying it supports Heathrow’s ambition to 'create the world's best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport at the heart of an integrated transport system'.
“Our new plans have been designed around the needs of local communities and will meet carbon, air quality and noise targets and provides the greatest benefit to the UK’s connectivity and its long-term economic growth,” Holland-Kaye said.
The report acknowledged that while Gatwick had presented a ‘plausible’ case for expansion and was well placed to cater for growth in European leisure flying, it was unlikely the airport would be able to swiftly provide capacity for long-haul destinations.
The commission also recommended that Heathrow should compensate residents who would lose their homes - estimated at 783 houses - at full market value plus 25 per cent and reasonable costs.
The airport should also be held to its commitment to spend more than £1bn on community compensation, the report said. It also called for an aviation noise authority to be set up, with a statutory right to be consulted on flight paths.
That new investments in railways be made and a congestion charge for cars arriving at Heathrow be considered were further recommendations.