Expanding Heathrow is a bad idea – it has to be Gatwick

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Guest post: Speech by Labour councillor Peter Carpenter at Wandsworth Council, July 8, 2015. Following the debate, the council unanimously passed this motion on airport expansion

I will confess not to having read the whole of the Airport Commission’s report, but I have read the 17 page Executive Summary which reads more like a polemic in favour of Heathrow, than the balanced judgement of an independent commission.

This is not the first time that Sir Howard Davies’ judgement has been brought into question. You will recall that in 2011 he had to resign as Director of the LSE because he thought that taking money from Colonel Gadaffi was a good idea.

I think we all agree that a third runway at Heathrow is not politically deliverable. But I am surprised, as an economist, Howard Davies thinks it is financially deliverable.

I am a businessman. What would I do if I were given the choice of investing £7 billion for a second runway at Gatwick, or £17 billion plus another £5 billion for public infrastructure upgrades (although TfL thinks it’s £10 billion) for a third runway a Heathrow?

That’s three times as much, and I was going to get a similar return on my investment. I know which one I would choose. Gatwick.

But it’s worse than that. Because of the size and complexity of the Heathrow project it would take some five years longer to deliver a third runway at Heathrow than a second runway at Gatwick.  So not only do I have to put up three times the money, but I have to wait another five years before I get any return on it. The numbers just don’t stack up.

So my advice to Gatwick is this. The Commission has said that a second runway at Gatwick is a viable proposition. Get on with applying for planning permission, and you’ll kill the third runway at Heathrow stone dead.

Locally it would be very difficult to deliver the Heathrow option against the opposition of the Mayor of London. We know that both the leading Labour and Conservative candidates for Mayor, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith are against Heathrow expansion. I suspect that any candidate that supported Heathrow expansion would be unelectable.

So the finances are for Gatwick, the politics are for Gatwick. I trust the leader of Wandsworth council will use his influence to ensure that the Government is for Gatwick.

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