Estuary Airport decision – comment

heathrow plane over lakeBoris says his estuary dream is not dead, while business groups welcome its exclusion from the Davies Commission shortlist.

The Mayor of London told the BBC that he felt the island airport plans were not dead in the water, despite the commission’s announcement. Boris said he believed plans to expand either Heathrow and Gatwick would run into problems, and that a future government might return to the Thames estuary plan.

It is of course possible Boris himself could become Prime Minister before any runway expansion could pass through the planning process and public inquiry. Whether, as a national leader, he would make the same judgement on the relative merits of the noise impact in West London and the potential cost of an estuary option remains to be seen.

Sir Howard Davies told LBC that he had ruled out the Estuary option as he felt he couldn’t recommend anything that would not be built.

However, it wasn’t just for this reason. He also cited the need for continuing competition in the aviation sector and the economic disruption a new airport would cause, saying: “While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.

“There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary.

“The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount.”

The economic disruption would be felt keenly in West London and the Thames Valley, where over a quarter of a million jobs could dissappear, according to reports. Competition would be impacted by the closure of Heathrow – necessary to provide a small part of the funding for the Isle of Grain scheme.

Boris responded, also on LBC, by saying the whole (Davies Commission) exercise was designed as a “massive smoke screen for a U-turn on Heathrow”, and that no other politiian “had the guts” to admit this, and have the discussion “out in the open”.

He is right that the Commission is in part designed to push a controversial decision past the next General Election, and that a more courageous leadership would have simply taken the decision that they felt was best for the country, and let the electorate judge them on that.

Lord True, Leader of Richmond Council, also made it on to LBC, and criticised the decision as “unimaginative”. He said: “After four years of sustained dither you can sense the post-General election stitch up coming.”

“After a no doubt careful count he worries in para 3.46 of his report that 75,019 birds might be disturbed by an estuary airport. It is high time he and the Government considered the many hundreds of thousands of people in London whose lives are – and would be – blighted by Heathrow. This report fails Londoners dismally.”

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said:”Millions of Londoners already suffer intolerable levels of noise pollution and disturbance from aircraft flying to and from Heathrow. Huge swathes of west and south west London, as well as parts of Berkshire are seriously affected now.

“As well as the huge increases in noise disturbance, a bigger Heathrow would also generate countless extra car journeys. People living in communities close to the airport could see almost permanent gridlock on their roads while the quality of the air they breathe would also be seriously affected.

Cllr Govindia did acknowledge the need for more connectivity, saying: “Gatwick has the space and the infrastructure to rise to the challenge and its expansion would create a healthy degree of competition between the two airports. It would also spark major new investment in rail services through south London into the heart of the city. Most importantly it has nothing like the environmental baggage associated with a bigger, busier and much more polluting Heathrow. ”

Gatwick has a direct train link to Clapham Junction, which is in Wandsworth.

However, some local politicians and public servants were pleased by the announcement. Hounslow Council welcomed the Airports Commission’s decision.

Cllr Amrit Mann, deputy leader for Hounslow Council, said: “We, like most people, thought Boris Island was a flight of fancy and now that it has been sunk, Heathrow won’t have to close.

“This makes many of the tens of thousands of jobs reliant on the airport more secure in the long term.”

However, they are not in favour of expansion. Cllr Mann went on “We want a better not bigger Heathrow, and a better deal for the people of Hounslow. We want the best quality of life possible for our residents now.

“This means better protection from aircraft noise in our homes and schools and better public transport like a massively improved Piccadilly line and a new rail link from the south.”

Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, said: “We welcome the Davies Commission’s decision to dismiss Boris Johnson’s frankly daft idea of closing Heathrow and replacing it with an airport in the Thames Estuary.

“This decision secures the future of Heathrow and the economic prosperity of West London and enables everyone to concentrate on sensible considerations of where and how Gatwick and/or Heathrow can be improved.

“The closure of Heathrow would have had catastrophic consequences for West London and the costs of building a new airport, infrastructure and housing in Kent always made the Mayor’s scheme impracticable and Howard Davies has come to this inevitable conclusion.”

Ruth Bagley, Chief Executive of Slough Borough Council said: “We know from our investment in an economic impact study that almost five thousand Slough residents work directly at Heathrow and altogether around 18,000 Slough residents have jobs supported in some way by the airport. The council has therefore argued for some time that the closure of Heathrow in favour of a new Thames Estuary airport would be highly damaging to the local economy and the jobs available to local residents.

“Ruling a Thames Estuary airport out of the Commission’s shortlist gives businesses in Slough and the Thames Valley and those looking to locate here the certainty they need to continue investing, safe in the knowledge that Heathrow will remain either in its current or an expanded form.

“The council is currently identifying how an expanded Heathrow could impact on the town and our residents. We will be working to get the best possible deal both in terms of mitigation for noise, congestion and air quality; and in terms of the opportunities available for jobs, investment and growth.”

Feltham and Heston MP Seema Malhotra was also happy to see the Estuary option ruled out, telling the Hounslow Chronicle “Today’s statement from the Davies Commission shows very clearly that the Thames estuary airport is the wrong answer for London and the costs outweigh any benefits.

“This was a fantasy project that has already cost Londoners millions of pounds. Time and public money should never have been spent on this vanity project which is estimated to cost up to £100bn.”

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “We have always agreed with the Mayor that Britain needs a successful hub airport to compete in the global race for jobs and growth . Heathrow is now the only hub left in the race. We would like to work with the Mayor to deliver Heathrow expansion in a way that benefits the whole country while reducing noise impacts for local people compared to today.”

Jock Lowe, the longest serving Concorde pilot and one of the promoters of the Heathrow Hub scheme said:  “Now his own proposal has been ruled out, I hope Boris will see that our proposal as just the sort of creative idea which should appeal to him. We can deliver the new airport capacity required cost effectively. And by extending the existing runway we bring no new communities in West London into the noise footprint, so ours is now the most politically realistic plan still being considered by Airports Commission. We again respectfully ask Mr Johnson to get behind Heathrow Hub in delivering this important project for London and for the nation.”

Heathrow Hub also noted, in a statement, that Boris had said in his regular Telegraph column that Heathrow might remain open as “an Orly-style airport.”

Business reaction

Sean McKee, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said: “After a great many months, we’ve ended-up where we all thought we would – with ‘Boris Island’ now finally struck out.

“Given the astronomical costs was it ever really likely to get the support of any future government?.

“Now Sir Howard and his team can get on a dedicated focus on deciding on a much more realistic option at Heathrow or Gatwick.

“Boris, as our Mayor of London, can now play a positive role in the aviation debate by leading calls for political action to boost air capacity in the “short term”.

“Neither Heathrow or Gatwick will have a new runway operational until the mid-2020’s – a decade away – so London needs a plan to deal with air demand in the ten years between now and then.

“The Mayor must shout loudly about making better use of existing London airports infrastructure including Stansted and London City”.

Frank Wingate, CEO of West London Business, said: “WLB welcomes the Airports Commission decision, which is based on facts and not political considerations. We hope now that common sense prevails and the Heathrow option for expansion will be preferred and acted on. This will be good for the country’s economy and for West London.”

Back Heathrow campaign co-ordinator Rob Gray reminded the Government that there is still a major capacity crunch at London’s airports, saying: “This decision is a major victory for the thousands of local residents in west London who had begun to fear the worst.

“However, despite the emphatic rejection of Boris Johnson’s plans, the UK still has a problem because Heathrow is bursting at the seams. The UK’s only hub airport might have dodged a bullet from the Mayor of London but a slow death awaits if it is not allowed to expand.

“The Airports Commission has said ‘No’ to Boris Johnson but for the sake of local jobs and UK prosperity, it now needs to say ‘Yes’ to growth at Heathrow.”

Alan Holland, London Business Unit Director, SEGRO, said: “Global connectivity is vital to the success of the West London economy and today’s decision by the Airports Commission means there is now only one hub option under consideration, which is Heathrow. Many of our customers operate internationally, moving people and products around the world by air and in a recent survey, 96% said that Heathrow was important to the success of their business. With better international connectivity, the UK will attract further investment that will safeguard and create new jobs and that is why we urgently need politicians to deliver new runways to allow businesses to directly access new and emerging overseas markets.”

Let Britain Fly campaign director Gavin Hayes said: “When they came to power in 2010, the Government set up a Commission to examine the issue of air capacity expansion in detail. Today they have given their expert verdict on how they will proceed with this process, and have confirmed that they will not formally shortlist an Estuary Airport for further consideration. We fully support the work of the Airports Commission.

“However It’s not just a shortlist of options we need, but the political will to do something about airports expansion. Without cross-party commitment to implement the Commission’s final recommendations, none of the proposals will get past the drawing board. We now need all parties to acknowledge the need for additional capacity and to ensure a Parliamentary vote takes place on the issue of airports expansion by 2016.

“This is why we have initiated the Let Britain Fly Pledge, which allows members of the public to have their say in the debate and call on their Member of Parliament to take action.”

Boris, clearly seriously miffed by the decision, also said that he believed “the political Kryptonite of a third runway at Heathrow will run into immovable political opposition”. He also cites the “appalling environmental consequences” a third and potentially fourth runway might bring as key reasons why they shouldn’t go ahead. It will be important therefore for pro-Heathrow campaigners to prove that despite certain politicians – national and local – being against expansion at Heathrow, the “silent majority” of local residents are in favour of expansion as they have suggested.

They must also demonstrate that an expanded Heathrow will be no noisier or polluting than today’s airport.

Boris, showing that he will continue his opposition to Heathrow expansion despite this latest setback, said he 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. He added: “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.

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