UK airport expansion decision – no decision

The end of Heathrow 3rd runway?

The UK Government has decided not to decide on a new runway in the south east of England – at least until after the election for Mayor of London in May 2016.

The Government says there is a clear case for airport expansion and that it need to undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon.

The announcement made no mention of either Heathrow or Gatwick but clearly the problem lies with the air, noise, traffic and political problems that a third Heathrow runway will cause.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, had promised a decision by the end of 2015.

The same David Cameron who said “no ifs, no buts, no 3rd runway”.

John Ball, Director of Strategy at said:

“I was sitting about four rows away and directly opposite David Cameron when he made that commitment for the first time in Richmond on 21 October 2009. There are many TV clips of him repeating the promise. It was a commitment made by him and his party to get elected.”

Airports Commission

The Government set up the Airports Commission to examine the need for additional UK airport capacity and recommend to the government how to meet that in the short, medium and long term.

The Commission got over fifty proposals including the option to build a new four runway airport to the east of London.

It concluded that the only solution for the UK was a third runway at Heathrow.

It also shortlisted a new runway at Gatwick and expanding a Heathrow runway into two.

You have to wonder just how much effort went into looking at the other options.

The problems

A third Heathrow runway has multiple unsolvable problems, including:

  • air pollution
  • noise pollution
  • traffic congestion affecting huge areas
  • costs of necessary infrastructure
  • constraints on future expansion
  • night flight restrictions
  • increased risk of crash in populated areas

The politics

There are two political races involved:

  • Conservative leader
  • Mayor of London


Conservative leader

The current Conservative leader is David Cameron and so he is the UK Prime Minister.

But Mr Cameron has said he will not seek another term in office meaning that he has to stand down by May 2020. In practice it will be possible one year before that.

The potential new Conservative leaders at the moment are:

  • George Osborne, UK Chancellor and MP for Tatton
  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip
  • Theresa May, UK Home Secretary and MP for Maidenhead

Heathrow is the option preferred by UK Chancellor, George Osborne.

The Chairman of the Commission was appointed by Mr Osborne and after he delivered his report he was appointed as Chairman of the Government Royal Bank of Scotland by George Osborne.

Mayor of London

The current Mayor of London is Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson believes the solution is to build a new four-runway airport to the east of the city, allowing 24-hour operations.

He is from the Conservative party. Mr Johnson has been Mayor for eight years but his term ends in May 2016.

ZAC and Bojo

There are only two possible successors:

  • Zac Goldsmith, Conservative
  • Sadiq Khan, Labour

The election is on 05 May 2016 and Mr Khan has a decent lead in polls.

The delay means no decision will be made before the election.

Mr Goldsmith has said he will resign as MP for Richmond if a Heathrow runway

Reaction to the non-decision

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London:

In a series of media interviews Mr Johnson explained that the problems with a Heathrow runway are not solvable and that the Government need to get back to a long term solution.

The correct long term solution is a four-runway airport to the east of London.

The Heathrow campaign was now officially grounded. He said the announcement was a ‘fudgerama’ and that a Heathrow runway was undeliverable.

He said that the problems with Heathrow include air pollution, noise pollution, hundreds of thousands more people affected by noise, the costs of road and rail works and the fact that a fourth runway would be called for. That would mean the same mess again in 10 to 15 years.

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP and London mayoral candidate:

“I am absolutely delighted that, after much campaigning, the Government has heard the arguments, seen sense and will judge the options against an environmental test.

“We know that any airport expansion must meet our legally binding carbon, noise and air quality limits. There can be no doubt that in a fair contest on air quality, Heathrow will not win.

“That is good news for London. We have a massive opportunity now to remove the threat of Heathrow expansion once and for all, and to press for an intelligent approach to London’s connectivity.”

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s MP and London mayoral candidate, MP:

“What we should be doing is agreeing to a new runway at Gatwick Airport. Say no to Heathrow… This dithering and delay will mean problems in relation to growth.”

Simon Clydesdale, aviation campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told Sky News:

“Neither Heathrow nor the Davies Commission have managed to convince anybody that they can build a new runway without breaking pollution and carbon limits, which would be illegal, no ifs, no buts.

“Kicking the can down the road for another six months won’t solve what is clearly an insoluble problem.”

Internet links

UK Government announcement