This morning Sir Howard Davies (of this parish), after 30 months of characteristically thorough and balanced investigation, has decided that building a north-western runway at Heathrow is the way forward for UK civil aviation.
Speaking at this morning’s announcement he said of his committee’s verdict: ‘At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.’
His decision will be welcomed by Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye, whose arguments - essentially that Heathrow is about long haul routes to economically vital emerging markets, and also air freight - seem to have won Sir Howard’s approval.
‘Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy,’ said Davies.
The big question now of course is, what happens next? If anything. The delivery of such a recommendation is far from a guarantee that it will be implemented - indeed the shameful history of prevarication and avoidance over the runway issue rather suggests the opposite.
Lest we forget, the powers that be have been arguing over where to put a new runway since the 1960s and before. It is only five years since the most recent previous decision to expand at Heathrow was rescinded, ‘No ifs, no buts,’ by David Cameron, and the issue remains politically incandescent especially within the Tory government. Big beast MPs including Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith and Justine Greening are all set hard against Heathrow, largely, it seems, for reasons of narrow political self-interest.
Even before the final report was revealed, the Government decided it wouldn’t respond officially until the end of the year, and now their commitment is looking even shakier.
Anyway, in a spirit of optimism for the national economic good, here’s a quick rundown of the key points of the Davies decision:
A new runway at Heathrow will create up to £147bn for the economy over 60 years, 70,000 jobs by 2050 and allow regular daily flights to some 40 new destinations.
The report recommends a package of noise abatement measures including a total ban on night flights between 11.30pm and 6am, a legally binding noise envelope, a noise levy on all Heathrow passengers and the establishment of a new independent noise authority.
This, the commission concedes, is a big issue. But although Heathrow is a major contributor it is hardly the only source of air pollution in west London. The problem is manageable as part of a wider programme, says Davies.
What about Gatwick?
Surprisingly, the verdict does not quite mean that it’s all over for plucky outsider Gatwick and its CEO Stewart Wingate, whose bid Davies describes as ‘entirely feasible.’ The decision went against it on the grounds that it delivers less extra capacity, fewer new long-haul destinations and little benefit for air freight. But it may yet be revived as the least politically unpalatable - and therefore most practical - option.