LONDON Jan 20 Britain must make a decision on a
new airport runway soon after the general election in 2015 to
avoid a capacity crunch that could cost the economy up to 45
billion pounds ($74 billion), the head of a government advisory
body said on Monday.
The government set up the UK Airports Commission, chaired by
Howard Davies, in 2012 to look into airport capacity in southern
England. It is due to publish a final recommendation on where
runway expansion should take place after the next general
election in May 2015.
Citing a looming capacity shortage in Britain, which by the
mid-2020s would be "significant", Davies said the newly elected
government would have to act fast after the Commission makes its
final recommendations in the summer of next year.
"We certainly think that a decision very shortly after the
next election will be important and urgent," he told members of
parliament's transport select committee.
Davies said the detailed planning which the commission was
undertaking meant that if a government could build consensus
around the recommendation, it would be able to produce a draft
plan for the new project in a matter of months.
In an interim report in December, Davies shortlisted three
options - building a new runway at either of London's two
biggest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, and extending an
existing runway at Heathrow.
An idea to build a new airport on the Isle of Grain to the
east of London, backed by London's high-profile mayor Boris
Johnson, should also remain an option, the report said. But it
has not yet been shortlisted.
That report estimated that not building a new runway near to
London would limit air traffic, costing the British economy 30
billion pounds to 45 billion pounds between 2021 and 2080.
The forecast costs of the shortlisted Heathrow and Gatwick
options, including related infrastructure, range from 15 billion
pounds to 20 billion pounds, while the Isle of Grain proposal
could cost up to 110 billion pounds, Davies said.
The location of any new runway capacity is a toxic political
issue with local groups opposing the noise, traffic and
pollution associated with more air traffic. Some lawmakers have
suggested the timing of the report making its final
recommendation after the election is significant.
Passions ran high during Britain's last 2010 election over a
possible expansion at Heathrow, for example, with supporters of
the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in west London helping
make sure the now ruling coalition of the two parties dropped
Davies batted off questions about the political implications
of the timing of the recommendations.
"We were asked to deliver a report after the general
election. If you ask could we have delivered a report before the
general election, I'm sure we could have delivered a report, but
we were asked to do it after," he said.
Davies added that he would "rise above this vulgar abuse"
after London mayor Johnson - who has been tipped as a possible
rival to Prime Minister David Cameron - was quoted by some media
criticising the commission's work.