Government likely to delay any runway announcement till well after Mayoral election in May 2016

The BBC reports that “senior sources very close to the process” have said that the decision by the government on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick is going to be delayed for at least six months. That means after the Mayoral elections in London, in early May – and would make it less difficult and awkward for the government, with Zac Goldsmith (vehemently against a Heathrow runway) standing as Tory candidate. The source said the government needs to have more “confidence building” about the environmental impact of a new runway at Heathrow. That is largely about local air quality, but also noise and carbon emissions. The  BBC believes that means yet another review, and it does not rule out a runway at Gatwick. Both Heathrow and Gatwick are going to have to come up with convincing proposals, over coming months, about how they will deal with the environmental problems. They are not going to find it easy. The BBC says government also wants to get more money out of the “chosen” airport, for local compensation schemes. It is expected that the runway decision will be taken by the Economic and Domestic Cabinet sub-committee,which Cameron chairs, on Thursday 10th, the prime minister chairs. The outcome is likely to be announced on the same day (probably in Parliament by Patrick McLouglin?).


‘Six-month delay’ for Heathrow decision

By Kamal Ahmed  (BBC) Business editor


It looks like the major decision on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick is going to be delayed for at least six months.

Senior sources very close to the process have told the BBC that there needs to be more “confidence building” about the environmental impact of a new runway at Heathrow, if the government backs it.

And that means yet another review.  And that expansion at Gatwick will not be ruled out.

One source told me that keeping both options on the table means that the airport operators can have their feet “held to the fire” over dealing with environmental concerns.

That may mean demanding that Heathrow bans staff from driving to work. Or saying that all “airside” vehicles (that is vehicles that operate within the airport’s perimeter) have to be electric.  [Both of these are laughable, and would have minimal impact. The problem is far bigger than that. AW comment].

The government also wants to be able to force more money out of Heathrow or Gatwick – if either are given the go-ahead – to pay compensation to local people who are affected.

Keeping both options on the table increases the government’s leverage.

‘Barrage of criticism’

The decision that there will be yet another delay is likely to go down very badly with businesses which have demanded that the government “get on” with expanding Britain’s aviation capacity.

But the politics of this decision appears to have held sway.

David Cameron is still concerned that any decision to back Heathrow will put his “no ifs, no buts” pledge in 2009 that there will be no third runway at Heathrow in sharp relief. And that he will face a barrage of criticism that he is not a man of his word.

Further, if a decision is not taken until next summer, that means it will come after the election for the next mayor of London, which is in May.

Which is convenient, given that the Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, is implacably opposed to Heathrow expansion.  As is the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan.

More delays

The decision on the new environmental review is set to be taken by the Economic and Domestic Cabinet sub-committee on Thursday, which the prime minister chairs.
And it’s likely to be announced on the same day.

Of course, we are still three days away from that committee meeting and, as with all things Heathrow (and, frankly, government on issues of aviation policy) things could change. The meeting was initially due to be held last week but was derailed by the crisis in Syria.
It was only a week ago that most were predicting a favourable outcome for Heathrow, including the airport itself.

That now appears to have been over-optimistic. More delays are ahead.


Comment by an AirportWatch member:

It needs to be remembered that the environmental problems of a 2nd runway at Gatwick are nearly as bad as those of a 3rd runway at Heathrow.

With two runways, Gatwick would be as big as Heathrow is today – with all the attendant problems, of air pollution, local congestion, carbon emissions, intense aircraft noise, development for a large area around the airport, and the formation of something akin to an “airport city.”  And in the case of Gatwick, huge loss of countryside and change of character of a large area.

The media has focused almost exclusively on the problems at Heathrow. The problems at Gatwick should not be ignored.  Added to which are the intense difficulties that Gatwick would have with surface transport, with just one rail line that cannot be expanded, and one motorway. Both the road and rail links are already struggling to cope with current demand.

It is hard to see how a massive piece of infrastructure, with the intensity and breadth of environmental and local impacts of a new (fully used) runway could be inflicted  on the residents of any parts of the densely populated south east of England. The level of upset and reduction in quality of life for tens of thousands of people should be recognised as beyond what can be forced on people, in a democracy.


Another commented: 

I can’t say I am happy with some of the press reports that Heathrow should run the additional air quality modelling work. Wasn’t that the problem with the “reverse-engineered” solution last time round ? The environmental review needs to be done by a credible independent body working at arms-length from the project proponents.

Air quality concerns ‘to delay Heathrow decision until next year’

By Sebastian Whale (Politics Home)


The Government is putting off a final decision on a third runway at Heathrow until next year due to concerns about air quality standards, The Times reports.

David Cameron has previously insisted a decision on which airport will receive the long-awaited expansion programme will be made before Christmas.

The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, backed a third runway at Heathrow, claiming the project would add £147bn to the economy and create 70,000 jobs by 2050.

But the committee of ministers formed to reach a final decision is expected to meet on Thursday, meaning a full Cabinet discussion would have to wait until next week.

However both Heathrow and Gatwick expect the Prime Minister to shy away from making a final decision.

Senior ministers told The Times Mr Cameron is considering using the uncertainty over air quality testing models and whether Heathrow could meet EU pollution standards to justify the pause.

Another source claimed a delay would be due to Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith’s opposition to Heathrow expansion ahead of next year’s London mayoral elections.
“It’s about Zac and Boris more than his pledge,” the source aid.

A Gatwick source told the paper: “The choice is now very clear. Legal expansion at Gatwick so Britain can grow. Or illegal expansion at Heathrow, with Britain losing out again.”
A Heathrow spokesman said: “The Airports Commission… made a unanimous and unambiguous recommendation in June for Heathrow expansion.

“Britain can be confident that our new plan will connect the whole nation to global growth while providing opportunities for the local community and making Heathrow the most environmentally responsible hub airport in the world.”

The news comes after the Environmental Audit Committee said that if a new runway is approved without assurances on air quality, carbon emissions and noise, it could make the Government’s decision more susceptible to legal action.


Mr Johnson, the Mayor of London and International Development Secretary Justine Greening have said they will fight any expansion of Heathrow.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Ms Greening refused to rule out resigning over the issue.
“I think that’s jumping the gun and let’s wait and see what the sub-committee comes out with, but frankly I will make sure that I continue to represent my constituents’ concern on this,” she said.

Mr Johnson said: “The third runway [at Heathrow] is a sham and a delusion and it will never happen.”

But backbencher Liam Fox has coordinated a letter between 30 Tory MPs representing the surrounding area, urging Mr Cameron to “press ahead” with Heathrow expansion.
They argue the extra runway at the major transport hub is “vital to our country’s economic growth and prosperity”.