Heathrow third runway unanimously recommended by Airports Commission, but with conditions

The Airports Commission has recommended that a 3rd runway should be built at Heathrow, but only if it can meet stringent conditions on noise and air pollution. Those conditions should include a ban on night flights, legally binding caps on noise and air quality – and legislation to rule out ever building a 4th runway [unlikely to be effective?] .The Commission has said their view was  “clear and unanimous” that Heathrow’s plan was the strongest case for a runway, delivering the greatest strategic and economic benefits, and they hoped the conditions would make the airport a “better neighbour” than today. The conditions are: – A ban on all scheduled night flights from 11.30pm to 6am….- No fourth runway – the government should make a firm commitment in parliament not to expand further. Davies states: “There is no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway.”….- A legally binding “noise envelope”…..- A noise levy on airport users to compensate local communities…. – A legal commitment on air quality (details to be announced, compliant with EU limits)…. – A community engagement board to let local people have a say…. – An independent aviation noise authority to be consulted on flightpaths and operating procedures at airports….- Training and apprenticeships for local people. The government must now decide whether to act on the recommendation – by autumn, or before Christmas.

The Airports Commission website

  1. Airports Commission releases final report

    • published Press release
  2. Airports Commission: final report

    • published Independent report
  3. Airports Commission final report and supporting documents

    • published Collection

A list of documents produced with the final report on 1st July 2015.


Heathrow third runway recommended in report on airport capacity

Airports Commission says £17bn expansion is ‘clear and unanimous’ choice but should include night flight ban and laws against ever building a fourth runway


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent (Guardian)

Sir Howard Davies says a third runway at Heathrow offers better value

A third runway should be built at Heathrow, the Airports Commission has recommended, but only if it can meet stringent conditions on noise and air pollution.

Those conditions should include a ban on night flights, legally binding caps on noise and air quality – and legislation to rule out ever building a fourth runway.

There had been speculation that the commission would hold the door open for Gatwick. But the commission said on Wednesday morning it was “clear and unanimous” Heathrow’s plan was the strongest case for future airport capacity, delivering the greatest strategic and economic benefits, and the conditions would make the airport a “better neighbour” than today.

The £17bn expansion plan would mean 250,000 more flights a year, providing a £150bn boost to GDP over 60 years and 70,000 new jobs – but would mean demolishing 783 homes, including most of the neighbouring village of Harmondsworth.

The long-awaited verdict comes five years after the government cancelled plans for a new runway at Britain’s biggest airport and is expected to spark a renewed political battle.

Sir Howard Davies, the commission chair, said the government would need to review the analysis carefully before making a decision. But he warned it to “move as quickly as it can” or be seen as unwilling to “take the steps needed to maintain [Britain’s] position as a well-connected open trading economy”.

Heathrow’s third runway: the conditions in full

The 12 conditions are (Page 10 of the report):

Report at  http://tinyurl.com/AC-Final-Report

– A ban on all scheduled night flights from 11.30pm to 6am.

– Predictable respite from noise to be more reliably maintained

– A legally binding “noise envelope”

– Compensation for those who would lose their homes at full market value plus an additional 25% and reasonable costs

– Heathrow should be held to its commitment to spend more than £1 billion on community compensation

– No 4th runway – the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand further

– A noise levy on airport users to compensate local communities

– A legal commitment on air quality (so air quality at sites around the airport will not delay compliance with EU limits.)

– A Community Engagement Board to let local people have a say, with influence on compensation

– An independent aviation noise authority to be consulted on flight paths and airport operating procedures

– Training and apprenticeships for local people.

– A major shift in mode-share for those working at and arriving at the airport should be incentivised


The government must now decide whether to act on the recommendation of the commission, which the prime minister established in 2012 to examine the need for more airport capacity, having shortlisted Heathrow or Gatwick for a required new runway.

The report said Heathrow’s benefits were “significantly greater” than Gatwick’s. Davies said Gatwick presented a “plausible case for expansion” but was “unlikely to provide much of the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long-haul destinations in new markets”.

Despite the exhaustive report, trying to expand Heathrow would run into intense opposition.

While most airlines in the UK and abroad back the commission’s recommended option, a central plank in Gatwick’s campaign was the claim that a third runway for Heathrow would prove “politically undeliverable” due to pollution and noise issues.

That claim may yet prove correct. Prominent members of the government – including cabinet members Justine Greening and Philip Hammond, as well as the London mayor, Boris Johnson – are all vehemently anti-expansion, while MPs of all parties from constituencies around Heathrow, as well the remaining Liberal Democrats and Greens, are opposed.

For Cameron himself, who unequivocally ruled out a third runway in 2010 – saying “no ifs, no buts” – it will be a political embarrassment.

The report stressed that the plan was “a fundamentally different proposition” from previous proposals to expand Heathrow, with the runway located further to the west and expected to have much less impact on local communities through noise. The commission said the airport should be held to account to spend more than £1bn on community compensation, including £700m insulating homes under the flight paths.

Business groups and most airlines will welcome the commission’s verdict. A majority had accepted Heathrow’s argument that only a hub airport could deliver the long-haul connections to emerging growth markets that would underpin high-value exports and inward investment.

John Stewart of the anti-expansion group Hacan, who chaired the last campaign against a third runway, said: “This is far from the end of the story. It will be the government that makes the final decision and given the strong opposition in the cabinet to Heathrow, the final chapter may come out in favour of Gatwick.”

The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said his department would consider the commission’s advice in detail.

He said: “As a nation we must be ambitious and forward-looking. This is a once-in a-generation opportunity to answer a vital question. I will make a statement to parliament later today in which I will set out the process for that decision to be made.”

Heathrow said it would “work for all Britain” in trying to deliver the runway. The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy.

“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.

He promised to “create the world’s best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport”.

Gatwick Airport’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “It is for the commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the government to decide. So we now enter the most important stage of the process.” He claimed the commission had “left the door open to us”.

But speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Davies said that while Gatwick had been “not inconceivable” when it was placed on the shortlist 18 months ago, he reiterated the commission’s “clear and unanimous” view that Heathrow offered significantly more benefits.

He said Heathrow was “by a long, long way” the better choice for air freight and exports, and said 60% of the benefit would go to the regions of the UK who could now connect at the hub. He said: “There are only seven airports connected to Heathrow and the reduction in numbers has been relentless. People in the regions have been denied access to Heathrow’s network.”

Asked if politicians would follow his advice, Davies said: “It has become a symbolic point around the world – is the UK and London prepared to make the decisions that are needed.”

Environmental campaigners warned that building a new runway would put climate targets at risk, despite the commission’s insistence that it was compatible with the targets.

Cait Hewitt of the Aviation Environment Federation said: “Increased emissions from a third runway at Heathrow, like all the shortlisted expansion options, would breach the climate change target for aviation unless politically challenging measures are introduced to limit growth at other airports or to substantially increase the cost of flying.”

She added: “The UK has a legal obligation to meet EU air quality legal limits and the Airports Commission still cannot say confidently whether or not expansion would be legal.”

Friends of the Earth said: “Building a new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow would have a hugely damaging impact on local people and their environment and would be a step backwards in UK efforts to tackle climate change.”




A third runway at London Heathrow airport will never fly

Philip Stephens (Financial Times Columnist)


You need not be a cynic to suspect policy-based evidence-making

Britain’s Airports Commission has done what was expected of it. It has called for a third runway at Heathrow. You do not have to be a cynic to suspect policy-based evidence-making. Unkind souls might call the report an establishment stitch-up. Never mind. Its conclusions are destined for the long grass. The pity is that money, time and energy will be wasted on a debate that can have only one outcome. Forget the commission’s expensively deceptive cost-benefit analyses. The runway will never be built.

Heathrow is in the wrong place — on the wrong side of the capital, more precisely. Its flight paths run directly above some of the city’s most densely populated neighbourhoods. Some 750,000 people — a full 28 per cent of those across the entire EU whose lives are blighted by aircraft noise — are unlucky enough to live near London’s largest airport.

Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that air pollution levels around Heathrow — most dangerously, nitrogen dioxide — already breach the legal limits. To add another 250,000 flights a year to the present 470,000, with the concomitant increase in road traffic, is simply unimaginable.

For all the £20m spent on the report, it is still not certain that London actually needs a new runway. The city already has seven spread over six sites, as good as any serious competitor in Europe, and much of the capacity remains unused. Air traffic projections are notoriously unreliable. Only a fool would gamble tens of billions of pounds on a flimsy prediction that London may be short of capacity by 2030.

The case made by Heathrow management that London’s reputation as a centre for global business depends on the airport upgrading its “hub” status by handling more transit passengers is flimsy at best. The proportion of business passengers has been falling — from 38 per cent at the turn of the century to 30 per cent last year. More than two-thirds of those who pass through the airport are tourists. To slot in more flights for business leaders to the booming cities of China, Heathrow has merely to cede to Gatwick or Stansted a few bucket-and-spade routes to Mediterranean resorts.

The importance of transit customers is overstated. The growth in air travel has been in point-to-point flights by smaller, fuel-efficient aircraft. And, unlike Frankfurt or Amsterdam, London is the final destination for the vast majority of air travellers. Heathrow counts 36 per cent of its passengers as in transit but across the capital’s airports the figure falls to below 15 per cent.

As it happens, Heathrow is a terrible advertisement for Britain. Beyond the superficial glitter of Terminal 5, much of the site comprises a series of down-at-heel sheds bursting at the seams with lucrative (for the airport operator) shopping concessions. Those unfortunate enough to arrive at, say, Terminal 3 can only shake their head in wonderment that one of the world’s pre-eminent cities can be content with such squalor. Delays and disruption are endemic. Of the dozen flights I took in and out of Heathrow in the past two months, I counted only two that left or arrived in time.

The cost to the public purse is prohibitive. The commission guesses at a price tag of £18bn or so for the runway, with another £5bn-£6bn for the necessary improvements to surface transport to cope with the extra passengers. Transport for London has suggested the latter figure could end up as high as £20bn. That may be an overestimate. But, whichever way you look at it, British taxpayers would have to pay a massive subsidy to the shareholders of Heathrow.

So why has Heathrow fought so hard for a new runway? Easy. It wants to stifle competition. The airport is a cash cow, but slightly less so since the Competition Commission forced it to divest ownership of Gatwick. London’s second airport has been transformed by the break-up, but a third runway, the Airports Commission acknowledges, would divert back to Heathrow traffic from London’s other airports. The owners would regain a near monopoly.

What London needs are better surface connections between the other airports and faster rail and road routes into the capital. Heathrow will soon benefit from Crossrail. Rather than spend billions diverting the M4 and M25 motorways around Heathrow the government should be investing in surface connections to Gatwick and Stansted. If, as is possible, capacity does come under strain, it would be much cheaper and faster to add a second runway at Gatwick.

Politics will combine with logic to doom a third runway. David Cameron, the prime minister, does not have the majority to take the legislation through parliament. The heavyweights in the Conservative party opposed to expansion are led by Boris Johnson, the London mayor, and his would-be successor, Zac Goldsmith. They are backed by several members of the cabinet and by many local Tory MPs.

So this is one of those moments in politics when a prime minister can marry principle with pragmatism. “No ifs, no buts, no third runway”, the prime minister promised a few years back. He was right.




Blame the Liberal Democrats. The Tories never expected to win a majority and be in government alone.

Meanwhile the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow was unconscionable for Liberal Democrats. While most Lib Dems were opposed to Gatwick expansion too, Nick Clegg was more open. Positions had been readied for a coalition agreement compromise and Heathrow could well have been sacrificed at the birth of a new government in favour of Gatwick, and both sides would have been happy to let the Lib Dems take both the credit and the blame.

When the election delivered a majority Tory government, there was nowhere to hide and the Tory factions and divisions come to the fore. On one level the divisions are well known: Boris Johnson and his possible successor Zac Goldsmith, plus Greg Hands and Justine Greening would all be lying in front of the bulldozers in Hounslow.

MPs in the southeast more affected by Gatwick expansion such as John Whittingdale, Dominic Raab and the like never ran the same sort of high-profile campaign to protect their own back yards, and now could well be the losers. (Somewhere in the city the firm lobbying for Heathrow should be shot by the airport operator for failing to do so).

Even this explanation masks more interesting divisions at the top. David Cameron made a clear public promise shortly after becoming leader that there would be no third runway at Heathrow. It was George Osborne who became increasingly sympathetic through the last parliament to this option. Now the chancellor is likely to be the one with the more difficult choice of conscience: what does abandoning Heathrow mean for his northern powerhouse for instance?

Have no pity for Sir Howard Davies, this is an entirely appropriate fate for his review. The Airports Commission was always just a magician’s prestige, a delaying device designed to extricate the government from a tricky political decision it would rather not take.

And while Sir Howard is trying to insist he is delivering a more clear-cut recommendation than some senior Tories had hoped and expected, he still says Gatwick is “conceivable” – allowing ministers to portray building here as a quick win while delaying decisions on Heathrow yet further.

Perhaps the real lesson is how easily David Cameron will waste £20 million for nothing when it suits him.




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