A fresh row has erupted about expansion at Heathrow, after the Transport Secretary said the “main reason” he could not recommend the extended runway option was because the airport owners would not guarantee to build it.
Chris Grayling was taking questions from MPs on the Transport Select Committee about the robustness of the case for a third runway at Heathrow. This “official” proposal is the preferred option of both the Government and the Davies Commission.
A rival independent proposal from the former Concorde pilot, Jock Lowe, proposes an extended northern runway. It is claimed to be one-third cheaper than Heathrow’s current £14bn price tag, to have less of an environmental impact and to involve demolishing fewer houses.
Aircraft would land at one end of the runway, and take off from the other.
Mr Grayling said: “The extended runway is a very innovative idea, but the main reason it wasn’t chosen is the promoters could not provide a written guarantee from Heathrow that they would do it.”
Jock Lowe, director of the Heathrow Hub Extended Runway option, said: “It clearly is not right that Heathrow Airport Ltd and its shareholders should be able to inflict on passengers and the country as a whole a much more expensive, more noisy and complex scheme by vetoing our scheme.
“What was the point of inviting the Airports Commission to consider ideas, if only airport operators can win?”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Heathrow did not ever veto any plan. As the Secretary of State identifies there were several issues which led to the Government choosing a north-west runway at Heathrow.
“In the end, the Government followed the advice of the Airports Commission which after its 2.5 year, £20 million study – the biggest ever into the issue – found a north-west runway delivers on all fronts including economic value, safety and benefits to local communities.”
Mr Grayling addressed the concern of airlines that fees could be increased to pay for the project, saying: “I see no reason for a material change to landing charges.”
The Transport Secretary also said that regional UK airports would collectively be guaranteed a certain proportion of arrivals and departures: “We would expect to reserve up to 15 per cent of slots for domestic connections.”
But he said there were no guarantees about links from specific airports. In 2016, the chief executive of IAG – British Airways’ parent company – said there was “zero chance” of BA operating flights to Liverpool and Newquay. Willie Walsh said: “We’re not interested in these artificial routes. We’ll go where there’s demand. The aspirations people have on domestic links are very difficult to understand.”
The Government has committed to holding a vote in the first half of this year on the National Policy Statement for Heathrow expansion.
A formal planning application is expected to be submitted in 2020, with the third runway opening in late 2025 or 2026.