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Final call to fix the capacity crunch

As the public gets its last chance to contribute to the Airports Commission, we invite some leading figures to offer their views.

William Bradshaw Life peer and co-chair of the Lib Dem transport committee

Liberal Democrat policy states that there should be no net increase in runway capacity in the south-east. This is based on fears about emissions, noise and access problems. I believe that only Gatwick has the means of overcoming these problems. The noise and emissions of the modern aircraft that fly to London will improve dramatically. The greater part of the access problems can be tackled by much-improved services on the Brighton Main Line, which would benefit the whole of Sussex, and Gatwick should pay for this (the extra runway is an immense prize). The airport should be declared a low-emission zone with an emphasis on road vehicles and by converting all the cooling units on the vehicles that service the airport to compressed-air operation as well as treating the vehicles themselves.

Bjørn Kjos Chief executive, Norwegian

I would remind Sir Howard Davies that what makes the new generation of airlines such as Norwegian successful is that they have low fares without sacrificing quality. This makes us highly competitive when compared to the legacy airlines, but our success also depends on the cost, efficiency and quality of the airports we fly from. Two world-class airports in London competing vigorously is an exciting prospect. It would keep costs low and standards up, and would encourage innovation, where the UK has led the way. Focusing capacity at Heathrow would reduce competition and choice, and would lead to air fares rising. Heathrow’s charges are so expensive, I can’t afford to land my planes there. If it had to pay for a new runway, its charges would go through the roof. Gatwick’s charges are much lower even with a new runway, which means I can operate even more long-haul services from Gatwick at prices people can actually afford, with successful low-cost carriers providing additional selfconnecting feed traffic.

Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith (Lab) and shadow justice minister

Howard Davies was set an entirely artificial task: to take three years reaching a decision on airport expansion that he admitted could be made in half the time. All because David Cameron said a “third runway at Heathrow is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts” in order to win London votes at the last election, and now wishes to change his mind – but not until after the May 2015 election. Davies also had to pretend that the white-elephant Estuary airport could be a runner just because Boris Johnson was wasting £5m of public money promoting it. However, there was much sense in the interim report, which debunked Heathrow’s scare stories about London needing a super-hub airport and put forward a credible Gatwick option. My advice to Sir Howard is this: tell us what you think the best economic, environmental and political option is now. The answer from his shortlist can only be Gatwick.

Graham Stringer MP for Blackley and Broughton (Lab), member of transport select committee

If this country is to continue to have a hub airport to compete with Schiphol, Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Madrid not to mention emerging hubs in the Middle East then Heathrow is the only choice and must have a third and preferably fourth runway. A hub airport cannot be created anywhere else. Restraining runway capacity at a hub airport does not reduce pollution and carbon-dioxide emissions – it increases them as air passengers are forced to fly to other European hubs. Creating two take-offs and two landings per journey is a perverse environmental policy. Unlocking the existing extra capacity at our major regional airports, such as Birmingham and Manchester, should be a priority, by improving rail access and introducing a unilateral open-skies policy. This doesn’t negate the need for a hub but does support regional economies and reduce air-traffic congestion over the south-east.

Zac Goldsmith MP for Richmond Park (Con)

Heathrow wants monopoly control and an expanded asset base, and the goal of its extraordinary advertising blitz is to create a sense of inevitability. But the case for a centralised mega-hub is evaporating, not least because travel is changing; transfer traffic across Europe has been declining for years due to advances in technology and the rise of low-cost carriers, while point-to-point trips are increasing. The alternative to cobbling back together a vast foreign-owned monopoly on one edge of our giant city is to facilitate a super-competitive network, with our three main airports competing fairly for customers. That means investing in better surface links. We have already seen the benefits of competition at Gatwick, which has flourished since it was liberated from the monopoly, and we should be doing more to maximise competition. Sir Howard and the Treasury must also take account of the politics. Heathrow affects more people than any other airport in Europe, by a gigantic margin. A third and, inevitably, a fourth runway would be intolerable. I don’t believe an advanced democracy like ours can pull it off.

Steve O’Connell Member of the Greater London Assembly for Croydon and Sutton (Con)

The need for extra airport capacity for the south of England is irrefutable. A second runway at Gatwick is the only scheme that doesn’t place an enormous burden on the public purse, doesn’t have an avalanche of public and political opposition, and is eminently deliverable. As a south Londoner, I see the existing benefit that Gatwick brings to my boroughs of Croydon and Sutton. A further runway will make travel better for my residents, but also be a boost for jobs, apprenticeships and general regeneration for south London and north Surrey. We need extra runway capacity. I strongly believe that within ten years we will see that delivered at Gatwick. That is to be welcomed and as a GLA member I support it.

Steve Reed MP for Croydon North (Lab) and shadow Home Office minister

London’s new runway should go where it will bring the greatest economic benefits and the lowest level of noise nuisance, and that means Gatwick. Croydon has an ambitious £5bn plan to reinvent itself as a modern European city on London’s southern edge. Proposals include a major new Westfield-Hammerson shopping centre, homes for 20,000 new residents, 23,000 new jobs, a new London tech hub and a revitalised leisure offer. The scheme has the potential to act as a major catalyst for growth across the south-east of England. Croydon is just 16 minutes by train from central London and 16 minutes from Gatwick. The airport’s expansion is vital to deliver Croydon’s Olympic-sized ambitions. That only 5 per cent of people would be adversely affected by increased noise pollution compared to Heathrow means that Gatwick offers a jaw-dropping economic case, and a more people-friendly case, that makes it the standout option for expansion.

Mike Cherry National policy chairman, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

One clear constraint on the UK’s economy is limited airport capacity, with demand significantly outstripping supply in London and the south-east. The business case for new privately funded runway capacity is now well established. If elected, the FSB wants all major parties to pledge to implement the Airports Commission report and build vital new runway capacity as quickly as possible. The delay in the decision on runway locations has led to the UK falling behind international competitors. While the decision will not be resolved at the next general election, it must be made as soon as possible after the Airports Commission reports. Whatever the ultimate location (or locations) for additional capacity, it must be integrated into wider transport infrastructure plans if economic growth is to be felt in all parts of the UK.

Download “Rethinking the Debate on Aviation Capacity” at: tinyurl.com/aviationcapacity/Gatwick