Airport inquiry head Sir Howard Davies outlines aims

 
Aeroplane Many businesses have been calling for an expansion of Heathrow Airport

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The head of a commission investigating airport capacity in the UK has said he aims to give the next government a "flying start" on the issue after the 2015 general election.

Sir Howard Davies, who acknowledged decision-making on the subject had been delayed, vowed to produce a "substantial piece of work".

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the process should be sped up.

The government has resisted pressure to build a third runway at Heathrow.

However, many businesses have been lobbying for expansion at the airport.

Mr Johnson, who opposes expanding Heathrow, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that expansion at the west London airport "simply will not happen".

Start Quote

I think it's going to be toxic and disastrous to go into the election of 2015 with Heathrow runway three still on the agenda”

End Quote Boris Johnson Mayor of London

The mayor, who has advocated a new airport in the Thames Estuary, also said he felt the decision-making process was too slow and represented a "policy of utter inertia".

"I think what is going on now is a good thing, it's a productive process. I just think it could be speeded up, and there is absolutely no need to delay to 2015," he said.

Mr Johnson added: "Can I tell you in the next nine years how many runways they are going to build in China? They are going to build 52. How many are we going to build in the UK? None at all."

He said it would be "toxic and disastrous to go into the election of 2015 with Heathrow runway three still on the agenda".

Speaking to the BBC earlier, Sir Howard addressed criticisms about the recommendations being delayed until 2015.

"Politics dictate that, for reasons we all understand, the coalition has said they are not going to make this decision before the election," he said, explaining that his commission can do a lot of preparatory work.

That work would include considering a national airport policy statement, detailed business cases and environmental and noise assessments.

"We do have to do all of that and I think we can do that under the aegis of the commission, so that when the new government comes into office in 2015, when they make a decision, it will have a flying start," he said.

'Lacking consensus'

He said the full report, expected in 2015, would be a "really expert piece of work looking at how we think about airport capacity, which I hope will be internationally leading-edge".

"In order to build enough political consensus around the eventual solution, we will need to show that we have done in-depth analysis of the other options. At the moment, consensus is what is lacking," he said.

In the meantime, Sir Howard, a former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, said the commission would look at the options for increasing airport capacity within the existing framework and how to narrow down the range of possible approaches.

He said he planned to bring out an interim report by the end of next year in which the commission would have narrowed down the options.

Airport Commission members

  • Sir Howard Davies, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority
  • Sir John Armitt, former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority and former Chief Executive of Network Rail
  • Prof Ricky Burdett, former member of the BP Executive Management Team
  • Prof Dame Julia King, member of the Committee on Climate Change
  • Geoff Muirhead CBE, former CEO of the Manchester Airport Group

Along with a third Heathrow runway, the options include connecting Heathrow and Gatwick, a new airport in the Thames Estuary and the expansion of Stansted.

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has named the five other individuals who will sit on the commission chaired by Sir Howard.

They include Sir John Armitt, the former chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and Geoff Muirhead CBE, former chief executive of the Manchester Airport Group.

Ministers say they are committed to maintaining what they call "the UK's position as Europe's most important aviation hub".

While the coalition government has ruled out further expansion at Heathrow during the current parliament, many Conservative MPs want ministers to think again as part of a wider review of the future of UK airports.

According to the BBC's political correspondent Chris Mason, the regular "mantra" from ministers is that 100% of their effort and attention is devoted to doing everything possible to revive the economy.

Liberalising the planning system and removing perceived barriers to growth are seen as key, he added.

Sir Howard was asked by the transport secretary in September to look into the issue of airport capacity .

 

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