Heathrow’s third runway plans suffered a setback yesterday when the government confirmed it would not pay for new surface infrastructure, leaving what rival Gatwick claimed was a £6 billion “black hole” in the project.
The Department for Transport said it expected the airport to “meet the costs” of any surface access works needed if a third runway was approved.
Official estimates drawn up by the Airports Commission suggested that £5.7 billion would have to be spent on works such as tunnelling the M25 motorway under the runway and widening the M4.
Other projects would include diverting a number of local roads and creating a new southern rail link from the airport to London Waterloo, Surrey, Hampshire and the south coast.
It had been thought that the government would finance rail and road schemes, with Heathrow investors covering the £14 billion third runway.
But aviation minister Robert Goodwill told Parliament yesterday: “In terms of surface access proposals, the government has been clear that it expects the scheme promoter to meet the costs of any surface access proposals that are required as a direct result of airport expansion and from which they will directly benefit.”
Gatwick says it will meet any additional surface access costs and will be road and rail ready for a second runway by 2021 should the government back its expansion.
Heathrow denied that the comments represented a blow to its third runway plan, insisting that costs had been overestimated and only £1 billion of public money would be needed for access upgrades.
However, Gatwick chief executive Stuart Wingate said: “There is now a £6 billion black hole at the heart of Heathrow’s plan.
“As we approach a decision on expansion, Heathrow owes taxpayers, passengers, airlines and government an explanation of how they plan to meet it as this cost increase alone is almost the entire cost of the Gatwick scheme.
“In stark contrast Gatwick’s plan is financeable and deliverable with none of the environmental challenges that would effectively make expansion at Heathrow unlawful.
“It is becoming clearer by the day that if we actually want something to be built and Britain to get the benefits then Gatwick is the only credible option.”
Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor, who opposes Heathrow expansion, told the Times: “If Heathrow won’t pay and the government won’t pay, then the third runway is already dead in the water and it would be foolhardy for the government to choose Heathrow expansion.”
The Airports Commission recommended that Heathrow should be allowed to build a third runway because it delivered more economic benefits to the nation. It effectively ruled out proposals for a second runway at Gatwick.
Prime minister David Cameron has said that a decision will be made by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Heathrow was reported to in talks with the Scottish National Party to improve its air links to Scotland in an attempt to secure the support of the nationalist party’s 56 MPs ahead of a potential House of Commons vote on the third runway.