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Coffee House

Airport wars: Heathrow and Gatwick argue about who offers the most benefits

13 May 2014

1:13 PM

13 May 2014

1:13 PM

Gatwick or Heathrow, who will triumph in the battle of the airports? Both sides have submitted more detailed proposals to the Airports Commission today, setting out why they are the right choice for expanding the UK’s airport capacity. While Boris Island appears to be mostly sidelined, the battle is looking to be between a second runway at Gatwick and a third (or possibly extending the second) runway at Heathrow.

In the revised proposals, Heathrow has increased its compensation fund for the effected 750 homeowners to £550 million, while Gatwick argues its expansion would be cheaper, more beneficial and have a lesser environmental impact — 14,000 people vs 250,000 for Heathrow.

On the Today programme, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye argued that adding a third runway to Heathrow would result in a £100 billion boost for the British economy — not just for London and the South East — and most effectively aid the country’s growth.

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Stewart Wingate, the CEO of Gatwick, said that as well as increasing capacity, a Gatwick expansion would ‘achieve a more competitive airport market’, which he claimed would also have wider benefits for the result of the UK. What does Gatwick think about Heathrow’s plans? As well as an additional £40 billion of benefits to the economy, Wingate thinks that expanding Heathrow can’t be delivered because it is too politically toxic:

‘A runway at Gatwick will be deliverable. After decades of dither and dather, it’s important that this time around that we actually come up with a solution that will be delivered and will result in a runway being built.’

Heathrow’s Holland-Kaye on the other hand doesn’t think Gatwick is the most effective way of expanding our aviation capacity or helping the UK compete in the so-called global race:

‘Heathrow and Gatwick are different airports. Heathrow is a hub. It serves network areas accessing long haul routes and those are the routes we need to access global growth in the next 40 years. That’s why we should be building on the strength of Heathrow rather than not waste the huge advantage we have. The competition here is not between Gatwick and Heathrow; it is between Britain, France and Germany.’

Whichever option the Airports Commission recommends in 2015 (after the general election), it will create a headache in Westminster over how palatable it is for voters. Heathrow expansion is a sore point for David Cameron, who was traditionally set against the idea yet has softened his views of late. Swathes of his own party, including Boris and Zac Goldsmith, are totally set against a third runway.

Nick Clegg has ruled out supporting a Heathrow third runway but has expressed an interest in the Gatwick option. Ed Miliband on the other hand has dropped his opposition to Heathrow, leaving the door open for Labour to support expanding Heathrow, again. Will the parties address aviation at all in their manifestos? Chances are they’ll take the opportunity to leave it in the electoral long grass until they’ve crossed the 2015 finishing line.

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