Failure to expand Heathrow alone would be “a mistake,” the man appointed by the government to review airport capacity warned today.
Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Airports Commission, said the case for expanding the west London hub is now “overwhelming” and has “strengthened in recent months” post-Brexit.
Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph Sir Howard’s intervention comes just a day before Theresa May is set to announce the government’s favoured option on airport expansion.
It was suggested last week that the prime minister could announce expansion to both Heathrow and Gatwick.
But Sir Howard warned that it would be a mistake to expand both Heathrow and Gatwick airports, adding: “Allowing two proposals to continue could mean neither is built.”
He said: “The arguments for making a decision now, and for Heathrow, have strengthened in recent months. Overseas, the lack of a decision is seen as a symbol of Britain’s inability to decide on its future as a trading nation.
“And the need for a clear strategic direction is more important since the referendum result. The rhetoric about becoming a European Singapore with a “blue water” trading focus seems empty if we cannot connect to the new markets we wish to serve.
“Gatwick is largely a European short-haul airport. It is also oriented towards outward tourism. About 70% of its tourist passengers are Brits going to the sun. Sadly, relatively few residents of Marbella and Corfu come here for their summer break.
“At Heathrow the tourist traffic is largely inbound. With our huge balance of payments deficit we need more high-spending American and Asian tourists to balance the books.”
And in a clear nod to the fact that Gatwick would not be the right choice, Sir Howard states that Birmingham airport could be a better decision for a second round of airport expansion expected in the coming years.
“The Airports Commission ran an open competition for the first new runway. The non short-listed airports, notably Birmingham and Stansted, accepted the decision, explicitly on the condition that they would be able to bid again for any second runway,” said Sir Howard.
“Giving Gatwick the green light now would again risk a challenge, and might well turn out to be the wrong long-term decision. With HS2 in place, Birmingham might indeed be a more interesting option.”
His comments comes just a day before a key group of cabinet ministers are due to make a final decision on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick.
Gatwick chief executive Stuart Wingate hit back ahead of the ruling, and said: “Airport expansion has been in a holding pattern for decades. We are finally getting to the point of decision again. The choice is crystal clear – growth at Gatwick or Groundhog Day at Heathrow.
“There is one reason why Heathrow has repeatedly tried and failed to expand – its location. Many things have changed in this debate but Heathrow is still based at Heathrow.”
A decision will be made by the airports cabinet committee and announced in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling warned that airport expansion will result in “challenge and opposition” whatever option is chosen.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that no decision has been taken on any of the three options; extending an existing runway at Heathrow or building a new runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow.
Ministers are expected to announce a “world-class” compensation package for residents living near the area earmarked for Heathrow expansion if the airport gets the go-ahead.
A report in the Sunday Times stated that those living in around 4,500 homes that will either be demolished or could suffer blight because they are so close to the airport will be offered the market value of their houses plus 25% as well as all legal fees and stamp duty costs paid, according to a leaked report drawn up by the business analysts Ernst &Young.
Grayling said: “The question here is that we have to, in my view, take a decision that is in the interest of our nation.
“What delivers us the best connectivity, the right approach for the future at a time when we want to grow international trade links, open up new opportunities for Britain.
“Of course there will be opposition, of course there will be challenge whatever we do.”
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