An announcement on airport expansion is imminent. The Government is set to make a final decision when the Cabinet Aviation Subcommittee meets either tomorrow (11th October) or a week on Tuesday.
It is important for passengers that Heathrow expansion is finally given the go ahead, particularly as the additional future demand from passengers is expected to come from long-haul flying. Although expansion at Gatwick would cater for growth in intra-European leisure flying, Heathrow is in a much better position to provide additional capacity for long-haul destinations. The business case for expansion at Heathrow is also compelling. Heathrow’s freight operations are currently 17 times larger than Gatwick and 26% of all UK exports already go via Heathrow, making the third runway option a better prospect for industry. Evidence suggests that manufacturing firms have been attracted to the area around Heathrow, and there are major concerns that London could lose its international hub status if more is not done to expand freight capacity and facilities at Heathrow airport.
Last year, the Government delayed endorsing the recommended option of a third runway at Heathrow on the basis of environmental concerns from the Environmental Audit Committee. Of course, the concerns of noise and emissions had already been addressed in the Davies Commission, which took nearly three years and £20m of public money to report. Analysis by the Committee on Climate Change concluded that a 60% growth in flights would be compatible with the UK’s legal obligations, and various measures on noise – including a ban on night flights – were proposed to mitigate any problems. It is therefore hard not to conclude that the delayed decision had more to do with political considerations.
However, the political roadblocks to expansion at Heathrow seem to be falling away. All evidence points to a huge majority for Heathrow expansion in Parliament. Moreover, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has now stated that he will not quit the Cabinet if Heathrow is given the go ahead. And, of course, the Scottish Government has announced today that it will offer its full support for the expansion of Heathrow.
The charade around airport expansion in the UK has been nothing short of a national embarrassment. Decade after decade has seen dither and delay. Plans to expand Heathrow were abandoned in the 1950s and the 1970s, and just last year the Government decided to fudge the issue yet again.
For the sake of passengers, businesses and the future health of the UK economy, there can be no more dithering on UK airport expansion. The economic case for Heathrow expansion is clear, and the political roadblocks to a final decision on the issue have all but disappeared. A clear and unambigious decision is needed in the next few days.