Westminster Watch: Davies under fire over Heathrow recommendation

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)

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