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Davies’ shortlist starts battle to catch the eye of Commissioners

Aircraft over houses

The Davies Airport Commission this week took a step forward towards potentially resolving the thorny issue over where to build the UK’s next runway, after the three shortlisted contenders submitted updated plans for consideration.

In all cases, minimising the impact of local people while increasing community and national benefits were the headlines of the submissions. These will be reviewed by the Commission ahead of its summer 2015 recommendation.

However, with Mayor Boris Johnson’s estuary airport proposal still under discussion, the debate over development options at Heathrow - with and without airport expansion and after a possible hub move - also stepped up a gear this week.

“We already suffer the Heathrow effect of the Piccadilly Line with too many tourists and the dire state of our road network is directly related to traffic from the airport.”

Councillor Colin Ellar, LB Hounslow

Heathrow Airport, the accepted front runner in the debate, stepped forward with a revised runway location affecting fewer people. It also revealed an increased compensation package for the 750 homes which would need to be demolished, a rather attractive 25% above market value plus legal fees and stamp duty, costing £550M.

By scaling back its ambition and providing a maximum of 740,000 flights a year, the airport also set out plans to cut noise by 30% - to below 1960s levels - and introduce more periods of respite. 

And by boosting train numbers to the airport from 4 to 18 an hour and introducing a congestion charge for passengers travelling to the airport by car, it also wants to see 60% of all journeys to and from the airport shift to public transport by 2050.

However, in a discussion debating the local impacts of proposals on the West London economy hosted by Place West London last week, it was clear that, despite assurances from the proposers, local authorities remain unconvinced, if not downright sceptical, about the business benefits and social impacts of any expansion.

According to Councillor Colin Ellar of the London Borough of Hounslow, while development at Heathrow gave the area huge business opportunity, it still comes with huge threat of increased noise, pollution and transport congestion.

“We are already too airport centric in our economy,” he said. “We already suffer the Heathrow effect of the Piccadilly Line with too many tourists and the dire state of our road network is directly related to traffic from the airport.”

"What is the thing that really upsets locals – it’s early morning flights,”

Pat Hayes, executive director of housing and planning, Ealing Borough Council

Ealing Borough remains similarly opposed to third runway expansion and executive director of housing and planning Pat Hayes highlighted to last week’s meeting the Borough’s long stated objective of a “better not bigger" Heathrow.

“What is the thing that really upsets locals – it’s early morning flights,” explained Hayes. “But we will look with an open mind at the proposals,” he added.

Local Authorities were similarly sceptical about proposals from the Heathrow Hub team. Despite assertions by promoter and former Concorde pilot Captain Jock Lowe that their plans to extend the runways by 6600m to the west would cost less and impact fewer people, the doubts persisted.

Ther was a clear sense of "we've heard it all before" when Lowe outlined his plans for working harder with airlines on approach paths and procedures so that noise patterns could be radically improved across the region.

Yet what was clear from the discussion about the west London economy was that for Hounslow and Ealing, development at Heathrow was emerging as a least worst option compared to shifting the hub to the Estuary as proposed by Transport for London and the Mayor.

“The impact of the Estuary option would be like a devastating nuclear strike on the Heathrow area,” said Councillor Ellar. “Would the area regenerate? I think not – and how long would it take?” 

However, Hillingdon Borough - in which Heathrow sits - was not represented at the discussion but is known to support plans for a Heathrow Park should the airport close creating 45,000 homes and 66,000 jobs.

“I must say that I remain pessimistic about getting politicians to agree with the conclusions of Davies,”

Colin Stanbridge, London Chamber of Commerce

Plans for the estuary airport are still be reviewed by the Davies Commission with a decision on whether to rule it in or out of discussion expect in the Autumn.

Meanwhile Gatwick Airport’s revised proposal argued that expansion plans would cost just £7.8bn and so were cheaper and could be delivered quicker than Heathrow Airport’s ideas. 

Gatwick also claimed that 10M more passengers a year would be able to travel using its proposed second runway compared to proposals for a third runway at Heathrow. 

The Davies Commission will then spend until after the General Election to consider the shortlisted proposals and present its report to the new government in the Summer of 2015.

Colin Stanbridge of the London Chamber of Commerce welcomed the discussion but was less certain that the commission would actually lead to a decision

“I must say that I remain pessimistic about getting politicians to agree with the conclusions of Davies,” he said.