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New north-west runway at Heathrow recommended by Airports Commission

Published: Thursday, 2nd July 2015

A new north-west runway at Heathrow is the independent Airports Commission’s recommendation as the most credible option for expanding aviation capacity in the UK.

The Commission’s final report, published on Wednesday, concluded that the Heathrow scheme, combined with a significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts, presented the strongest case and offered the greatest strategic and economic benefits. These included providing around 40 new destinations from the airport and more than 70,000 new jobs by 2050.

The report said that the Heathrow extended northern runway delivered similar economic benefits, was less costly and required the loss of fewer homes. But it provided a smaller increase in capacity and was less attractive from a noise and air quality perspective.

The Gatwick scheme was feasible, the report said. But the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits were considerably smaller.

The Commission stressed that its recommendation was a fundamentally different proposition from previous proposals to expand at Heathrow. It delivered a full-length runway, maximising the connectivity gain. It was situated further west than the current runways, which would help reduce the number of people affected by noise. And it was accompanied by strong proposals to limit the impacts on those living nearby.

These included a recommended ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am and a proposal that the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further.

The Commission was adamant that there was no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow.

It called for a legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport buttressed by a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities.

The Commission has also urged a legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will only be released when it is clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed.

Prime Minister David Cameron this week promised a government decision on airport expansion by the end of the year amid signs of Cabinet divisions over what the outcome should be.

Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies said: “Over the past two and a half years, we have reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process.

“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 north-west runway.”

View the final report

Roger Milne