A new report by the Airport Commission has said that new runaways at Gatwick or Heathrow are needed to expand the UK’s airport capacity by 2030.
Its interim report examines possible options for the extension of the UK’s aviation network.
It says that new runaways can be built at Gatwick on the south of the existing runway, while there are two options at Heathrow – one for a new 3,500 metre runway to the north-west and one for the extension of the existing northern runway to at least 6,000 metres.
The commission has not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options, owing to various uncertainties, but said it would scrutinise the case for the Isle of Grain in 2014, as well as the expansion of Stansted or Birmingham by 2050.
Chair of the commission Sir Howard Davies said, “Decisions on airport capacity are important national strategic choices and must be based upon the best evidence available.
“The UK enjoys excellent connectivity today. The capacity challenge is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon and our analysis clearly supports the provision of one net additional runway by 2030.”
The government has welcomed the report, calling it “a significant step forward in the commission’s work in assessing options for meeting the UK’s international aviation needs”.
However, environmental NGOs have criticised the proposal, saying it is incompatible with climate targets and that it does not take into account the fact that business flights are declining.
Jean Leston, transport policy manager of WWF, said, “The fact is, business is flying less and expansion at Heathrow will be used mostly for leisure travel. Expanding Heathrow for more leisure flying is an environmental travesty. There’s ample spare capacity at other airports to for holidaymakers to use.”
Greenpeace noted the government’s U-turn over airport expansion, as well as the negative consequences on the environment it could potentially cause.
“David Cameron told voters, ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway’, and when standing for leadership of the Labour party, Ed Miliband described his party’s previous support for expansion at Heathrow as ‘a mistake’”, executive director of Greenpeace John Sauven said.
“Heathrow expansion would also add to local air pollution already exceeding EU legal limits, and would add to already severe road and rail congestion in the area. The industry has produced no answers to this.”
Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith recently criticised his own party over its backing of the potential expansion of Heathrow. He said the Davies review was being conducted for “political convenience”.