Howard Davies and the London Assembly

How times change.  Ten years ago the Labour Government was planning four or five new runways across the UK plus full use of existing runways at all the country’s airports.  It proposed a third runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Stansted or Gatwick, plus a second runway at Birmingham and at least one new runway in Scotland.

This morning Sir Howard Davies told an excellent session of the London Assembly that he envisaged just one new runway by 2030, with the possibility of a second one by 2050.   Moreover, he made clear that any new runway would only comply with the Government’s climate change commitments if it was accompanied by an increase in the cost of flying or some other form of intervention to manage demand across the UK.

Davies said that a recommendation for a new runway did “not imply a significant increase in flying.”  His view is that, while there is an economic argument for a new runway in London and the South East, the overall increase in flight numbers across the country would need to be limited to the 55% increase that the Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s official advisers, argues is compatible with the UK’s climate commitment.

Davies is saying let Britain fly but within limits.  He said “unconstrained demand would exceed any plausible amount of emissions that are legislated for” and made it clear that some in the debate had “not taken account of climate change.”

Davies’s focus will be on where a new runway should be.  He explicitly rejected the view that it should be taken for granted that an expanding London’s hub airport was necessarily the best economic solution for the capital.  He made clear that, in his view, London was more like New York (which has two smaller hub airports) rather than some of the European cities which rely on one big hub.  Gatwick Airport will be pleased he acknowledged the strength of their argument that more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other city in the world.  Gatwick argue that this means that second runway at their airport could bring passengers into London as effectively as a third runway at Heathrow.

Davies wasn’t drawn on whether he favoured Heathrow, Gatwick or an Estuary Airport.  What he did make clear, though, that “there was no case for an infinitely expandable hub.”

The big message Davies would have got back from the Assembly was their big concerns about any expansion at Heathrow:  traffic congestion, air pollution and, above all, noise, noise, noise.  Assembly member Kit Malthouse suggested to Davies that planes should fly along the third runway flight path before any decision was taken to give people an idea what it would be like.  Davies doubted it was practicable but said it was an “intriguing” idea which he would “take away and look at”.  And we discovered that flight path would include Ravenscourt Park – home of one, Sir Howard Davies!    

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