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Coffee House

Sir Howard Davies makes himself at home in the long grass

2 November 2012

9:00 AM

2 November 2012

9:00 AM

The chair of the government’s airports commission was refreshingly honest about the purpose of his review when he appeared on the Today programme this morning. Sir Howard Davies said:

‘I have reflected quite hard on the criticisms about long grass that the Mayor of London and Michael Heseltine say, that this is booted into the long grass. So how can you make best use of your time in the long grass? What I think we can do is do a lot of the preparatory work. I think we can do that so that when a new government comes into office in 2015 when they make a decision it will have a flying start. I aim to to be a really expert piece of work looking at how you think about airport capacity which I hope internationally will be leading edge.’

Sir Howard will set out the membership of the commission and its terms of reference today as he makes himself comfortable in the long grass. But stalking through the undergrowth towards him is the Mayor of London, who took the opportunity of his own slot on the same programme to savage the review and the government as brutally as he possibly could.

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In the same way as someone starts a sentence with ‘no offence, but’ before saying something rather offensive and personal, the Mayor said he had ‘great respect for Howard’ and that he looks ‘forward to co-operating fully with his inquiry and to giving him all the benefit of the investigations that we’ve done into this matter’. Then he pounced. The review would be ‘toxic and disastrous’ for the 2015 election, he said, as it would leave the question about airport capacity hanging over the electorate. He also suspected that the government would yield to pressure from business and ‘come up with what they think is the best short-term solution, which is to go for the third runway at Heathrow’.

Just in case anyone was in any doubt what the Mayor’s position is on Heathrow, he attacked that beast, too:

‘We’ve been round this quite a lot and I think it’s politically toxic, for the reasons I’ve just explained. It will go down incredibly badly in London, it will lead to a severe erosion of the quality of life for the people in London.’

He was a little more careful with his words than he has been in the past – there was no ‘fudgerama’ this time around – but Boris still bit a good chunk out of the government. First he said ‘what they should do, what Howard, with great respect, should do, is accelerate his timetable’, which made it clear that though he had spent much of the interview passing Sir Howard Davies from one claw to another, he had his eye on a bigger prey in the distance. Then he added:

‘There is absolutely no need for us to delay to 2015. Can I tell you, in the next nine years, how many runways they’re going to build in China? They’re going to build 52. How many in the UK? None at all. It is a policy of utter inertia.’

Boris now has back up on his hunting mission: Lord Heseltine. One of the peer’s key criticisms in his growth review earlier this week included the government’s reluctance to press ahead with aviation expansion in the South East of England. The long grass doesn’t look like a very comfortable place to lurk at the moment.

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