Airport expansion has become a two-horse race between Gatwick and Heathrow after proposals to build “Boris Island” in the Thames Estuary were dropped.
The Airports Commission announced today (September 2) it would not add the inner Thames estuary airport proposal to its shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030.
The news was welcomed by Stewart Wingate, chief executive at Gatwick Airport, who said an “important juncture” had been reached.
In December 2013, the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, shortlisted three proposals for one new runway for London and the south east: a new runway at Gatwick, adding a third runway at Heathrow, or lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow.
The commission carried out a study into the feasibility of an airport in the inner Thames estuary – dubbed Boris Island due to its backing by Mayor of London Boris Johnson – but concluded the proposal’s disadvantages outweighed its potential benefits.
Sir Howard said: “We are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames estuary is the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs.
“While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.
“There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary.
“The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount.
“Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.
“There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution. The need for additional capacity is urgent.
“We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK.”
While Mr Johnson criticised the decision as “myopic”, Mr Wingate said: “This is an important juncture in the aviation debate because now Britain’s choice is clear; expand Gatwick and support genuine competition, lower fares and greater choice for passengers or expand Heathrow and return to the stale monopoly of the past and watch the cost of going on holiday, travelling for business and exporting goods and service go up.”
The Airports Commission’s final report is due in 2015.
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