A year to the day after his Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow, Sir Howard Davies said a decision is needed "more than ever” because of the vote to leave the European Union.
Yesterday the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, announced yet another postponement of a decision on a new runway, expressing the hope that it may now be made in October.
Sir Howard, the chairman of the Airports Commission, told the Today programme on Radio 4: “Brexit is being seen as an insular sign, a nation turning in on itself.” He said that a commitment to airport expansion in London was seen globally as “a touchstone” of the UK’s vision.
“For those who say we don’t need this, I’d like to know what their economic model for the country is,” he said.
The Davies Commission concluded that a third runway at Heathrow would bring the greatest benefits, generating up to £147bn in GDP impacts over 60 years and creating more than 70,000 new jobs. The final report also shortlisted two other “credible options for expansion” in South East England: a second runway at Gatwick, and an extended northern runway at Heathrow - the so-called “Heathrow Hub”.
Nearly six months later, the Department for Transport responded, saying more work needed to be done on the three shortlisted projects, and promising: “The government will do this quickly so that the timetable for delivering capacity set out by the Airports Commission can be met.
“We anticipate that it will conclude over the summer.”
The delay was widely regarded as a political convenience to delay a decision until after the London mayoral election in May in which the Conservative candidate was Zac Goldsmith, a vocal opponent of Heathrow.
An announcement on the runway had been expected next week, and some sources had indicated a decision was to be made as a parting gesture by David Cameron before he stands down as Prime Minister.
The Tory frontrunner for Number 10, Theresa May, is MP for Maidenhead - a constituency that begins just six miles west of Heathrow, and which would be particularly affected by an extended northern runway.
Sir Howard Davies urged a swift rubber-stamping of his recommendation, saying: “If a new prime minister could make a decision quickly, it could be ready by 2026.”
The three-year investigation by the Davies Commission is estimated to have cost up to £20m. In addition, £3m was allocated from Transport for London’s budget to promote the preferred project of the then-Mayor, Boris Johnson, for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
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