The interim report of the government's Airports Commission has just been released and it's ensured a bad start to Boris Johnson's morning. The commission, chaired by Howard Davies, shortlists Heathrow and Gatwick as possibilites for aviation expansion but leaves out Johnson's proposal of a new airport on an artifical island in the Thames Estuary ("Boris Island") as "there are too many uncertainties and challenges".
While the report promises "further study" of his more recent suggestion of an airport on the Isle of Grain, in north Kent, this is an unambiguous snub to the Mayor. The commission warns that all of his proposals would be "extremely expensive", with the cost of an Isle of Grain airport (described as "the most viable of those presented") around five times that of the three short-listed options at up to £112bn.
It adds that they would "present major environmental issues, especially around impacts on protected sites" and that "the new surface access infrastructure required would be very substantial, with potential cost, deliverability and environmental challenges of its own". Finally, "the overall balance of economic impacts would be uncertain – particularly as an Estuary airport would require the closure of Heathrow for commercial reasons and London City for airspace reasons."
The three options that have been shortlisted are a new runway at Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow and an extended runway at Heathrow. The final report won't be published until the summer of 2015, after the general election, so expect the Tories and Labour, as in the case of tuition fees in 2010, to maintain a conspiracy of silence throughout the campaign.
Here's the key extract from the release:
The Airports Commission’s interim report published today (17 December 2013) has announced that it will be taking forward for further detailed study proposals for new runways at two locations:
- Gatwick Airport
- Gatwick Airport Ltd’s proposal for a new runway to the south of the existing runway
- Heathrow Airport (two options)
- Heathrow Airport Ltd’s proposal for one new 3,500m runway to the northwest
- Heathrow Hub’s proposal to extend the existing northern runway to at least 6,000m, enabling the extended runway to operate as two independent runways.
The next phase of its work will see the Commission undertaking a detailed appraisal of the three options identified before a public consultation in autumn next year.
The Commission has not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options because there are too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage. It will undertake further study of the Isle of Grain option in the first half of 2014 and will reach a view later next year on whether that option offers a credible proposal for consideration alongside the other short-listed options.
The Commission has not shortlisted proposals for expansion at Stansted or Birmingham, however, there is likely to be a case for considering them as potential options for any second new runway by 2050. In its final report the Commission will set out its recommendations on the process for decision making on additional capacity beyond 2030.