Mayor vows to continue fight as Airports Commission reject future

02 September 2014

The Mayor of London has told the Airports Commission that their failure to take forward the only credible option for aviation expansion means their work will become increasingly irrelevant, as he cannot conceive of any possible scenario in which a Government would approve the expansion of Heathrow.


Responding to news that the Airports Commission intends to consult on plans for new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick, but will not proceed with consultation on a four-runway hub airport in the Thames Estuary, the Mayor expressed deep regret that the Commission has taken the debate back to two options that have been on the table for half a century without ever reaching take-off.


The Mayor expressed disbelief that while the Commission seemed to have no single reason to rule out an estuary airport, they appeared unable to recommend it simply because of its sheer scale and vision.


Sir Howard Davies has told the Mayor that the debate on a second additional runway would need to begin by 2020, well before construction of either a third runway at Heathrow or a second runway at Gatwick could start.


It is clear to the Mayor that the political Kryptonite of a third runway at Heathrow will run into immovable political opposition, as it has in the past, because of the appalling environmental consequences it will deliver to a million or more Londoners. And building a fourth runway at Heathrow would be an environmental disaster for London. Equally expanding Gatwick Airport will fail to provide the global connectivity that can only come from a large, four-runway hub airport.


As a result the Mayor remains convinced that a future Government will return to plans for a hub airport on a site to the east of London, and any future recommendation made by the Davies Commission will be irrelevant.


The Mayor points out that, in rejecting the possibility of a new airport, the Commission has also turned its back on the rapidly growing population of London. That population desperately needs the homes and jobs that his Estuary proposal offers.


The regeneration of east London and the Thames Gateway, entirely in line with current Government policy, would transform the south-east and create 336,000 jobs across the UK, whilst contributing £92 billion annually to UK GDP by 2050, dwarfing both Heathrow and Gatwick.


A regenerated site at Heathrow could provide homes for up to 190,000 residents and as many as 90,000 jobs. Without a four runway hub airport it is clear that cities around the UK whose airports have already lost their connection with Heathrow, will fail to get it back as a third runway will be full from day one. Even the Airports Commission's calculations show that.


The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “In one myopic stroke the Airports Commission has set the debate back by half a century and consigned their work to the long list of vertically filed reports on aviation expansion that are gathering dust on a shelf in Whitehall. Gatwick is not a long term solution and Howard Davies must explain to the people of London how he can possibly envisage that an expansion of Heathrow, which would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution, is a better idea than a new airport to the east of London that he himself admits is visionary, and which would create the jobs and growth this country needs to remain competitive. It remains the only credible solution, any process that fails to include it renders itself pretty much irrelevant, and I’m absolutely certain that it is the option that will eventually be chosen.”


The Mayor has confirmed his team will continue to make the case for a new airport to the east of London and ensure that the ongoing debate is considered with the needs of Londoners at the forefront. He has expressed his determination to ensure that the remaining options receive the fullest possible scrutiny.


His team have been alarmed by wildly inaccurate claims being made in regard to the costs of the different schemes, and the Mayor has made it clear that he will use the consultation to ensure those costs - and the associated economic and social benefits - are properly scrutinised and corrected where necessary. 

Notes to editors

• Key to the Mayor’s support for an estuary airport is his conviction that a decision on national aviation policy is a once in a lifetime event that must take the requirements of this country in 40 or 50 years' time into account. A new hub airport in the estuary is the only option that will provide enough capacity to meet the forecast increase in demand for flights over that period, and the only option that will allow the United Kingdom to compete with its rivals to win valuable routes to the powerful new economies emerging in the Far East and South America.

• It is also the only option that will help manage a growing population. With London’s population forecast to increase in size by a staggering 37 per cent to 11.3 million people by 2050 building a new hub airport in the east will unlock a major new corridor of jobs and housing stretching from east London into Kent and Essex. But it will also release an area the size of a London borough on the former Heathrow site and allow it to become a thriving new district that could potentially provide 90,000 new jobs and 80,000 new homes.

• The Airports Commission has deliberately chosen to look only as far ahead as 2030, when the United Kingdom requires a long term plan of the sort that other countries have invested in. It has shown quite extraordinary leniency to existing airports in the way it has treated the costs of the new road and rail connections they will need, while loading all the costs of surface access to a new airport onto that project. And it has clearly shown that the driving force of its approach has been the reconciliation of competing private interests rather than what is good for the country.

• The CBI has called for Howard Davies to support a large hub airport with spare capacity. Chambers of Commerce the length and breadth of the kingdom have been calling out for the same thing, since they are currently forced to undertake international travel via Schiphol and have no fast connection to their own capital city and the country's largest regional economy.

• Any recommendation to expand Heathrow airport is asking the Government to deliver the undeliverable. The airport is already responsible for vastly more noise pollution than any other airport in Europe and to worsen that situation by adding a third, then inevitably a fourth runway, would be indefensible even before other serious questions involving air quality, vehicle pollution and rerouting the M25 are considered.

• To recommend a second runway at Gatwick would also offer no long term solution to the challenges facing the UK. Gatwick already has the capacity to provide more flights but airlines frustrated by congestion at Heathrow are well aware that the larger number of transfer passengers found at large hub airports will offer them greater profits so they will continue to head to Schiphol or other hub airports instead, making any investment in building a new runway at Gatwick a truly worthless endeavour.

• One recommendation made by the commission is worth pursuing. That is to improve surface access to Stansted in the short term. Bringing forward proposals for four railway tracks in the Upper Lee Valley as soon as possible would not only help make better use of underutilised capacity at Stansted (whilst a fit for purpose long term solution is still pursued) but it will also open up this key regeneration area. A new airport to the east of London would:

• Support 336,000 jobs around the country, around a third more than an expanded Heathrow, and more than five times as many jobs as an expanded Gatwick airport would provide.

• In 2050, the air service connectivity available at a new four-runway hub airport in the Thames Estuary would underpin £92.1bn of national GDP each year. By comparison, the inferior connectivity on offer at a three-runway Heathrow would generate £59.1bn, and a two-runway Gatwick only £22.6bn. • A new hub airport, properly planned, would have the potential to reshape the economic geography of London and the whole of the South-East for decades to come. Were Heathrow Airport to relocate the former site could be redeveloped into a new town that could potentially provide homes for up to 190,000 people and add £7.5 billion to the UK economy.

• Over the last 20 years the number of routes into Heathrow from domestic airports around the UK has fallen dramatically. As a result large parts of Britain are now without access to the UK’s main international airport and the links to massive overseas trade markets that it can provide. However a new four-runway hub airport would restore those links and provide 49 more regional flights every day than a third runway at Heathrow would provide.

• Shortlisting an estuary airport has been supported by business groups the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. They include the Kent Chamber of Commerce, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Highland and Islands Transport Partnership, the Liverpool and Sefton Chamber of Commerce, the Darlington Business Club and the Hull Bondholders Scheme. Only yesterday, the CBI called for a large hub airport with spare capacity. A three-runway Heathrow can never offer that, since it will be full from the day it opens: good for Heathrow shareholders, but not what the CBI is calling for.

• A Thames Estuary airport faces no insuperable obstacles to its delivery. Every challenge posed can be addressed and building a new airport would be far less taxing than facing the challenges posed by the massive environmental and political deliverability of a new runway at Heathrow.