Bosses at Gatwick Airport have criticised a report recommending a new runway should be built at Heathrow, accusing it of relying on an inaccurate “economic modelling of assumptions”.
Sir Roy McNulty, chairman of the Gatwick Airport Board, said the Airports Commission had understated both Gatwick’s strengths and the challenges faced by Heathrow when it made its decision to favour a new runway at the west London airport.
Giving Heathrow the green light to expand would be the “definition of insanity”, he suggested, adding that if a runway is chosen there, debates will rage for years before anything is built.
In a long-awaited report published earlier this month the commission opted for a new, full-length runway at Heathrow rather than expanding one of its current runways or building a new one at Gatwick.
While Gatwick had presented a “plausible” case for expansion and was well-placed to cater for growth in European leisure flying, it was unlikely to provide capacity which was urgently required, the commission found - that of long-haul destinations on new markets.
But bosses say the report is wide of the mark in its forecast of future passenger numbers for an expanded Gatwick, despite them repeatedly raising the issue with commission chairman Sir Howard Davies over the last two years.
The commission predicts passenger numbers there will reach annual passenger numbers of 40 million in 2024, whereas Gatwick says it will reach that level this year.
But Sir Roy said despite Gatwick submitting in spring this year a “very comprehensive” analysis of traffic forecasts on competition, the commission has “dismissed our criticisms with a fairly superficial analysis”.
He added: “We are quite absolutely sure that what they have finally settled on does not make sense, and we will be putting that point as strongly as we can to the Government.”
Business leaders and unions welcomed the commission’s report, saying a new runway at Heathrow will pave the way for tens of thousands of new jobs and give a huge boost to the economy.
But environmentalists warned that building a new runway at Heathrow will make it harder to solve the problems of air pollution and climate change emissions which the UK already faces.
Gatwick officials expressed a raft of concerns over some of the commission’s data, analysis and findings, which they believed had led to a “flawed” conclusion.
- The report fails to consider the role Gatwick could play in the long-haul market, but recommends a solution “almost entirely focused on long haul, despite acknowledging that the majority of new passengers in the coming decades will travel to European countries. Suggesting that the nature of “traffic” changes depending on which airport is expanded is “nonsense”;
- Expanding Gatwick would increase competition, but the commission recommends increasing market dominance at Heathrow. Such a monopoly would lead to higher fares for passengers;
- The difference in noise impact between the two airports has been “largely glossed over”, and little emphasis has been given to the 320,000 people newly affected by a Heathrow expansion, compared to 18,000 at Gatwick;
- Gatwick would meet targets over air quality with a second runway, while Heathrow already breaches legal limits without a third runway;
- There are “considerable delivery risks and financial challenges” to a Heathrow runway, which the report downplays, compared to a “comparatively straightforward” option at Gatwick.
Sir Roy said the report’s assumption that the type of new passengers travelling at one airport or the other depending on which was expanded would be of a “different complexion”, in his opinion is “nonsense”.
He said: “The reality is that there will be another 30 to 40 million passengers to be handled, but they are not going to be all leisure traffic if they go to Gatwick or all business traffic if they go to Heathrow.
“That distinction that (commission analysts) PwC have made, in our opinion, is quite wrong. That really is what I mean about the importance on this economic modelling of assumptions. It all depends on what you assume.”
Gatwick bosses are “already speaking to government” and will now write to David Cameron to push the case for the West Sussex airport, before the Prime Minister decides by the end of the year whether to accept the commission’s recommendation.
And they said they would await the decision before considering a legal challenge or whether to pursue a judicial review.
Sir Roy said: “We remain confident that when we come to arrive at a final judgement on this, with a more realistic balance between the economy and the environment, that the Gatwick case will come out ahead.
“Howard Davies as an economist, perhaps inevitably, has given much greater weight to the economic aspects, but it is the environmental aspects and the impact on hundreds of thousands of people in the west of London that have stopped this Heathrow expansion idea three times before, and it remains to be seen whether it survives this round.
He added: “As Einstein famously said, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results ...
“Should Heathrow expansion once again get the green light, we will be back debating it again in a few years’ time and discussing the alternatives. In the meantime the UK will be losing out.”
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