Sir Howard writes to Government over Gatwick’s criticisms

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

The chairman of the Airports Commission has written to the Transport Secretary after Gatwick Airport Limited (GAL) criticised its report.

GAL criticised the commission’s final report which backed Heathrow expansion over Gatwick in July.

Sir Howard Davies branded accusations the commission ‘largely ignored’ Gatwick’s lower noise impacts compared to Heathrow as ‘nonsense’.

Its final report had stated: “Although an expanded Gatwick would see more people affected by noise than today, its overall noise impacts would still be much less significant than those around Heathrow.”

Sir Howard Davies said the commission ‘strongly believes’ its arguments behind its recommendations in its final report were stronger than GAL’s criticisms.

The Government will decide which airport to expand.

The letter stated: “GAL’s criticisms fall into seven broad categories, with which this letter deals in turn.

“The majority of the points made by GAL in the media were in reality also made to the Commission in the course of its work and we considered them carefully before we reached our conclusions.

“I thought it may therefore be helpful to provide an overview of this and to explain why we believe strongly that our work is robust to these criticisms.”

Sir Howard Davies said the arguments were about traffic forecasts; regional connectivity; economic benefits; costs and charges; deliverability and financing; air quality; and noise.

Sir Howard Davies refuted GAL’s legal arguments over air quality issues around Heathrow. His letter stated: “Our analysis demonstrates, however, that the impacts of expansion at Heathrow would be a manageable part of this broader issue, which we believe the Government can feasibly devise and implement appropriate measures to address. In our view, therefore, limited weight should be placed on the suggestions that air quality represents a significant obstacle to expansion.”

The letter cited the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and an academic backing the commission’s traffic forecasting method over GAL’s. The commission ‘strongly disagreed’ with GAL’s claims passenger growth at the airports forecasts were wrong.

Sir Howard Davies said there were flaws in GAL’s arguments over an expanded Heathrow serving half as many domestic routes as an expanded Gatwick. No expansion at Heathrow would see the number of its domestic routes fall from four to three. Gatwick would be unaffected with its expansion increasing its number from seven to eight. He said the routes could not be compared like for like as stakeholders in nations and regions wanted direct links at Heathrow for its long-haul flight connections. He added the Commission’s forecasts had not assumed a number of ‘feasible’ measures to promote domestic connectivity at an expanded Heathrow.

He refuted GAL’s assertion that the economic benefits from expanding either airport were ‘virtually the same’ and stated a third runway at Heathrow was predicted to have around two-thirds as much net social benefit to the UK. His letter stated: “This overall analysis aligned well with the PWC results, which showed much stronger impacts across the UK economy from expansion at Heathrow - more than £140 billion over 60 years compared to c. £90 with a second runway at Gatwick.”

Sir Howard Davies said GAL was ‘entirely misguided’ over passenger charges being cheaper because Gatwick expansion was. Heathrow’s bigger demand would reduce the per passenger charge for its expansion.

Sir Howard Davies defended the commission’s view that Heathrow expansion could be delivered by 2026 after GAL said it underestimated challenges over tunnelling and widening the M23 and other transport improvements.

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