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BBT March/April 2019 cover
March/April 2019

Westminster Watch: Davies under fire over Heathrow recommendation

Heathrow airport third runway

Poor old Sir Howard Davies. He spends two and a half years of his life wading through expansion proposals, appraisal frameworks, consultation responses and so on to produce emerging thinking documents, an interim report and a final 344-page report… And gets told not only that his analysis is flawed, but that his integrity is, too.

I’m sure he was expecting it but he is in the middle of a campaign where opponents are quite content to play the man as much as they are the game. And that is pretty much down to the fact that the Commission’s report was so forthright about the benefits of Heathrow’s expansion.

It left almost no wiggle room in its analysis that economic growth and potential long-haul routes were the main advantages of Heathrow, but also recognised the noise and air quality issues, and suggested mitigating activity that should be undertaken in a kind of “grand deal” necessary for expansion. 

Where do you go from there if you don’t agree? Unfortunately, for those seeking a swift decision, the answer is “lots of places!”

You can try and tackle the detail of the report – and Gatwick’s 50-page dossier shows that this is a critical part of their refusal to give up. They have been prominent in calling the report “superficial”, “flawed” and “biased” with the noise and environmental impact of Heathrow being underplayed. There are a number of politicians (most notably Labour mayoral hopeful, Sadiq Khan MP) who are happy to hitch themselves to that wagon. 

You can appeal to the political fears of those ultimately making the decision on whether to accept the report’s conclusions by stressing that Heathrow is undeliverable and ensuring that the big beasts on your side – Johnson, May, Hammond, Greening and Goldsmith – make as much noise as possible to demonstrate this. Remember also that this is the PM who gave his “no ifs, no buts” promise that there wouldn’t be a third runway. 

You can go to the courts, or insinuate that you may, and we have seen local authorities, particularly in Hillingdon, the home of the airport, suggest that they will use the courts to highlight the deficient consultation around air quality. Gatwick is also indicating that the flawed methodology of the Report (as they see it) may be the basis for its own legal action.

Whether these are successful is moot – the delay that they will cause is not. 

Finally, you can go after the integrity of Davies himself. The most flagrant example of this thus far has been likely Conservative mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith MP, claiming that Prudential (where Davies is a board member) buying £300 million of property in the Heathrow vicinity in the run-up to the Report was the smoking gun that proved it was not an impartial process. 

This is a campaign to bounce the Government away from endorsing a Heathrow expansion by making it so painful and potentially time-consuming that it is just not worth the hassle. What it does not do is try and contest the central argument of Davies, which is that it is Heathrow that would give us those routes to emerging markets that only a hub airport can generate and sustain – we must make sure that its proponents are equally vocal in reminding decision makers how important this is. 

Gareth Morgan is a political lobbyist and director with Cavendish Communications (cavendishpc.co.uk). He is an advisor to the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC)

Comments

I'll add you Gareth to the long list of egos using the demolition 4,000 homes as a way for you to grovel to the rich and powerful .
Somewhere along the line you obviously believe that you will be repaid by those selfish short termists that ruin everything in their quest for an even larger personal wealth.
It could even be that pouring millions of tonnes of concrete on to English Green Belt is a price worth paying, by someone else of course, to make Heathrow travel more convenient.
The aviation industry and their lobbyists will lie and cheat to win at Heathrow and Davies was the 'go to crook' to help them.
I could run rings around you and preach chapter and verse on why once again the grubby and greedy pro expansion deviants are wrong but I doubt you have the capacity to understand.
As a Heathrow worker myself, living in a Heathrow Village for decades, I've seen legions of arrogant but weak 'leaders" come and go. Each one insulting and disrespecting the hundreds of thousands of people saying enough is enough in West London.
We welcome a successful Heathrow but Heathrow’s foreign, tax avoiding, polluting and low wage owners must both improve their productivity while also allowing regional airports to share the benefits of possible aviation growth.
To listen to supposedly impartial observers speak of economic benefits in 2080 makes them all look ridiculous. Especially the assumption that only Heathrow’s proposed two miles of tarmac will provide these benefits.
Read the views of Birmingham and Manchester business leaders to educate yourself in how Heathrow expansion is just another London centric project that will stifle the UK regional economies, not help them.
When the bulldozers do turn up we hope that Gareth and his other vocal dullards are at the front facing us.
I doubt it though as talk is cheap.
Integrity and honesty are priceless. Heathrow Villages are worth fighting for.

Bryan Tomlinson's picture
Bryan Tomlinson (not verified)
Bryan Tomlinson 's picture
Bryan Tomlinson (not verified)

The main flaw of the Airports Commission's final report recommending government approval of Heathrow Holding's proposal to add a full-length runway to the North-West of the existing airfield lies in the proposed remedies to mitigate the damage it does to the environment.

For a start, both Heathrow Holdings and the airlines seem to be unwilling to accept an extended night flying ban as the price for approval of the airport's expansion, citing bilateral difficulties as a reason. Furthermore, the airport's owners also seem to be disinclined to accept a ban on a fourth runway. Besides, any legislation to that effect can be repealed by a future government. It therefore isn't a water-tight, legal guarantee and probably constitutes a waste of law makers' time.

More importantly, the owners of the airport's biggest user, British Airways, has now openly declared its opposition to Heathrow expansion, ostensibly on cost grounds. This matches easyJet's openly declared opposition to Gatwick's expansion. What these airlines really don't want is to be the main paymasters for the airport where their biggest base is located as this would mainly benefit their competitors, i.e. both existing users of Heathrow with only a limited presence at the airport and the 30-odd airlines Heathrow Holdings claims have applied for slots there but failed to get them in BA's case and Ryanair potentially launching a base at an expanded Gatwick that would be even bigger than their current biggest base at Stansted to compete head to head with easyJet.

The most important point here is that regardless of whether the government eventually accepts or rejects this report no expansion anywhere will be deliverable until and unless the airports' biggest users are also willing to pay for it. Likewise, the oberseas-based pension, private equity and sovereign wealth funds that own both of the country's biggest airports won't invest in any new, major airport infrastructure such as additional runways unless they can be sure to recoup their investments. This is unlikely to be the case under the remedies proposed by the Airports Commission as it artificially constrains investment. The only thing that could change this is if the government were to chip in with a very large subsidy. Not only will this be difficult to justify to voters in times of austerity but it would probably also fall foul of European competition legislation.

Krishnan R. Iyengar's picture
Krishnan R. Iyengar (not verified)

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