Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Stop `Dithering' Over London Airport Expansion, Lawmakers Say

  • Opportunity `squandered' after Heathrow recommendation in 2015
  • Heathrow competitors taking advantage of delay in decision

The U.K. government must stop “dithering” over the expansion of airport capacity around London, make a decision and set out a timetable for completing the project, a panel of lawmakers said.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has “squandered” the opportunity to make an evidence-based decision based on a report issued last year by Howard Davies’s Airports Commission, the House of Commons Transport Committee said. The commission recommended the expansion of Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub, but Cameron postponed making a commitment until after Thursday’s London mayoral election.

The delay is damaging economic growth by deterring investors uncertain about the future of Britain’s communications, the panel said on Wednesday.

“Across the world, cities are collectively planning to build more than 50 new runways with capacity to serve 1 billion additional passenger journeys by 2036. The growth of large hubs in the Middle and Far East and North America threatens our position as a hub of international aviation,” the committee chairwoman, opposition Labour Party lawmaker Louise Ellman, said in an e-mailed statement. “The government must make up its mind.”

Cameron, who promised “no ifs, no buts” in 2009 that there would be no expansion of Heathrow as he sought to win votes against the then Labour government, appointed Davies in 2012 to examine the options in order to put off a decision until after last year’s general election. After Davies reported in July, urging a third runway at Heathrow in preference to expanding the second airport at Gatwick, south of London, the premier delayed his response further, citing the need for more environmental research.

Goldsmith Rally

Zac Goldsmith, the candidate for Cameron’s Conservative Party in the mayoral vote, has pledged to resign as a House of Commons lawmaker for Richmond, under Heathrow’s flight path, if expansion there goes ahead. Cameron made his 2009 promise to block a third Heathrow runway at a rally organized by Goldsmith, and it would have been an embarrassment to the premier if he’d been at odds with his candidate in such a high-profile election.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin prepared the ground for Cameron to back expansion at Heathrow during evidence to the committee in February, while hinting that a decision on the location of the airport may not be announced until after the June 23 referendum on membership of the European Union.

‘Very Different’

“The prime minister was talking about a specific proposal that was before Parliament at that time, which he believed to be wholly wrong as far as the future of aviation capacity was concerned,” McLoughlin said of Cameron’s pledge. “The recommendation that has come forward from the Davies Commission, if a third runway is decided as the right way forward, is very different from the proposal being looked at in 2008 and 2009.”

The committee said that the further environmental studies ordered by the government would take on more urgency and be more focused if the decision on the location of extra runway capacity is made first.

“We accept that the package of measures to mitigate environmental impacts needs careful consideration and further work. We do not accept that all of this needs to be done before a decision is taken on location,” the lawmakers said. “A decision on location is not the end of a process; it is the start of one.”

“The real, independent evidence continues to point towards Heathrow,” the west London airport said in an e-mailed statement. “Only an expanded Heathrow delivers and now is the time to make it happen.”

Gatwick said in a statement that the continuing debate “highlights the inadequacies of the Airports Commission report, which failed to address the environmental impacts of
Heathrow expansion while drastically overstating the economic benefits.”

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