Independent review to rule on air capacity?

The Heathrow expansion debate continues to occupy the headlines, with Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly set to order an independent review of airport capacity.

The review would be a way of removing the issue of capacity expansion from the increasingly polarised cabinet. The Independent reports that the PM is “baling out” on a decision, but it could just be a mechanism to allow the Tories to drop opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, and might let Transport Secretary Justine Greening – opposed to expansion at Heathrow owing to a manifesto commitment to her Putney constituents – keep her job in the anticipated reshuffle.

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne, in an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC, made it clear he felt expansion at Heathrow was an option that should be considered, saying extra runway capacity was needed, and “then it is a question of where it should go – Heathrow, a new estuary airport, Stansted, Gatwick”, and that we should “examine all the options”.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has changed her position on the issue, saying that while she campaigned on a manifesto containing opposition to a third runway, she now believed that this would lead to a reduction in connections between Scotland rest of the world, and that Heathrow should expand.

However, opposition to expansion continues, with LB Wandsworth saying a recent All-Party Parliamentary report on aviation policy is “short-sighted and grossly understates the impacts of aircraft noise on millions of people living under the Heathrow flightpaths”.

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia and spokesman for the 2M Group of local authorities said: “The report is hopelessly short-sighted and Heathrow-centric. It’s clear this group has fallen completely under the aviation lobby’s spell and chosen to ignore the millions of ordinary people whose lives would be blighted by these ill-conceived recommendations.”

When a third runway was last approved by the former Labour Government, the 2M Group led a legal challenge on the basis of environmental impact. Cllr Govindia made it clear that any decision to allow expansion at Heathrow would be challenged in a similar way.

Heathrow is the UKs hub airport, and supports around 150,000 jobs in West London. Business groups have been calling for expansion, as the airport is operating at 99.2% capacity, and many feel links with emerging economies such as China are being affected, with airports such as Frankfurt able to offer almost ten times the number of flights.

Frank Wingate, CE of West London’s Chamber of Commerce, West London Business, said that all options for airport capacity growth needed to be considered in an evidence-based non-political way.

“We’ve yet to see a credible financial plan for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary and any development there could take 30 years. At the same time any significant downsizing of Heathrow will be little short of catastrophic for West London jobs and business. We have an affordable, ready-to-go solution for airport capacity here and action needs to be taken quickly for the UK economy. “

BAA have said they could find the £10bn cost of a new runway at Heathrow from private investors. The Mayor of London is pushing for a new £50bn airport in the Thames Estuary. This would likely mean the end of Heathrow’s ‘hub’ status, and threaten many of the jobs it supports.

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