U.K. Electorate May Be Denied Vote on Airport Expansion Proposal

U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said voters may go into next year’s general election not knowing where any of the main parties stand on the expansion of airports in the south east of England.

A report into future airport capacity, commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron and led by Howard Davies, won’t be published until after the May 2015 vote and parties are unlikely to agree to sign up to its findings ahead of publication, McLoughlin said.

“I don’t think you can expect people to say they will definitely do something in a report they have not seen,” McLoughlin said today in an interview. “But all of the parties as far as I can see are saying that it’s a very serious piece of work and it will be very influential when they decide.”

Liberal Democrat members of the coalition government and London Mayor Boris Johnson have already come out against expansion of Heathrow, to the west of London, which accounted for two of three options recommended in Davies’s initial report. McLoughlin said the study has already been invaluable in making airport operators modify their plans to account for public sentiment regarding aircraft noise, road traffic and the destruction of homes.

“It has made the airports think about what the future should be,” McLoughlin said during a visit to Bombardier Inc.’s train factory in Derby, central England. “Heathrow’s proposals are very different to what they were a few years ago, and there have been changes at Gatwick and with the estuary proposal.”

Heathrow this week outlined plans for a third runway it said will create 100,000 jobs and add 100 billion pounds ($168 billion) to the economy. The updated proposal moves the new strip south, affecting 200 fewer houses and maintaining highway layouts. The airport had already abandoned a plan to build a shorter runway to the north.

Gatwick, which currently has one runway, said its plan would result in 10 million more passengers, five years sooner, delivering 40 billion pounds more in economic benefits and creating 120,000 jobs. Aircraft noise would affect just 14,000 people, versus 240,000 impacted today at Heathrow, it said.

Heathrow said its noise footprint would be cut by 30 percent by 2030 and that about 12,000 fewer people would be affected with the runway moved south. A 550 million-pound fund would go toward noise insulation and property compensation, including paying a sum 25 percent above the market value of properties to homeowners forced to move, the airport said.

The third proposal shortlisted by the Davies Commission would extend Heathrow’s existing northern runway so it could handle jets taking off and landing at the same time.

Davies has also pledged to undertake further work on Johnson’s plans for a replacement hub in the Thames estuary, which was excluded from the shortlist. The mayor has stopped short of agreeing to back recommendations of the commission, which will report back on the estuary plan later this year.

“Boris is always helpful,” McLoughlin said today. “Not always in the right ways.”

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