The Airports Commission isn’t due to make its final report until 2015, but in a week where the future of Heathrow has already been in the news, it has produced a short-list of options for expanding the UK’s airport capacity. Set up in 2012 and headed up by Sir Howard Davies, the Commission was asked to look at how to expand the UK’s capacity for handling air traffic, and to put together a plan for handling the required work.
The analysis by the Commission shows that they believe there will be a need for an additional runway somewhere by the year 2030. Debate has continued to be fierce between supporters and opponents of building at each location, and will continue to rage, no matter what final recommendations are made.
Plans for a third runway at Heathrow were scrapped in 2010 when the coalition government assumed power, but the threat has never gone away. With intense lobbying on either side taking place, the government has since said that it will not rule out any options for expansions; but the Transport Secretary reaffirmed on Sunday that the government had committed to not expanding Heathrow during the course of this existing Parliament. In essence this means that any decision that affects Heathrow has been kicked into the long grass until after the next elections – which are in 2015, once the Commission has made its final report.
The three options highlighted this week are: a new runway being built at Gatwick, the lengthening of the North runway at Heathrow to allow, or the building of a brand new third runway to the north-west of the airport Heathrow. The Commission says that it will also be considering a new airport that has been proposed for north Kent on the Isle of Grain, but won’t be looking at that until next year.
Although Birmingham and Stansted have not appeared in the short-list, the Commission hasn’t ruled out looking again at them as options when looking ahead to the year 2050. Sir Howard says that the continuing rise in air traffic will put additional pressure on existing facilities, but that this pressure is not yet at a critical level. Failing to make plans and taking action soon however will lead to these challenges becoming critical sooner rather than later.
Supporters of the Heathrow options point to them being cheaper and quicker to deliver, while others that include the Mayor of London would prefer to look to create a new hub. With over seventy million passengers passing through Heathrow in 2012, the importance of London and Heathrow as an international airport and destination cannot be underestimated – but the ongoing uncertainty and arguing will continue to blight households and businesses alike in the vicinity of each of the short-listed airports until definitive decisions are made. In some ways, not having a decision is worse than a decision being made that everyone detests.