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Author: Suzy Riding – Glenigan infrastructure expert
As the UK strives to cement its reputation as a world-leading hub for international business, the issue of airport capacity remains high on the political agenda.

Heathrow and Gatwick airports have both unveiled revised expansion plans in an attempt to secure permission to build the UK's next runway.  Both airports have submitted their plans to the Airport Commission, charged with deciding how to expand UK air capacity.  The government-appointed body will choose between building projects for a second runway for Gatwick and either a third runway for Heathrow, or extending the northern runway to the west. However, it will not make its recommendation until 2015, after the general election.GleniganNewsletter_Infrastructure_Jul-14

Heathrow has promised that the owners of 750 homes, which would need to be demolished to make room for a third runway, would be offered 25% above the market value of their properties. The airport plans to consult local people on its revised proposals this summer (Glenigan Project ID: 03179476).

In its report, Gatwick argued that its expansion plans (Glenigan Project ID: 03225160) would cost £7.8 billion and were cheaper and more beneficial than Heathrow's. It said 10 million more passengers each year would be able to travel with a second runway at Gatwick than with a third runway at Heathrow. The airport also calculated that a new runway at Gatwick could be delivered about five years earlier than a third runway at Heathrow. It added that its location, south of London, meant that just 14,000 people would be affected by noise, compared with a potential 240,000 people at Heathrow.

Heathrow Hub, the group proposing an extension of Heathrow's existing runways, also submitted a revised proposal to the Airports Commission (Glenigan Project ID: 01515100). It argued its plans would mean a potential end to night quota flights and would create up to £45 billion of economic benefits for the UK and 19,000 jobs.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed a "political fix" is putting Gatwick airport in pole position to get a new runway, as he appealed to the Airports Commission to take a longer view and reconsider building a new hub.

The mayor has submitted a new dossier to the commission, which had made clear its scepticism over his favoured plan of a Thames Estuary airport (Glenigan Project ID: 90310597), but revised its timetable to allow Johnson to address critical questions.  Johnson said it was time to stop "making do" and haphazardly expanding existing airports, adding: "We must ensure that the final outcome is not one that future generations will regret."

Johnson's favoured inner Thames Estuary airport plan, promoted by architect Foster + Partners, would cost about £25 billion to build. An extra £25 billion would be needed for surrounding transport infrastructure and an additional £14 billion to purchase and shut down Heathrow, which would be redeveloped as a new suburb.

The Thames Estuary case focuses on London's forecast growth, to 11.3 million people by 2050, and the additional jobs and homes moving the hub airport could produce. The submission claims the new hub would generate £7 billion a year in economic benefits and would be commercially viable, with a relatively modest increase in landing charges – rejecting the Airports Commission's estimates that the cost of building in the Thames Estuary would mean fees triple those at Heathrow, driving up fares.  According to the mayor's team, building the airport at a similar remove from the capital would expose fewer than 30,000 people to aircraft noise.

Johnson said: "The brutal, ineluctable facts of geography mean that we as a country will come round to this in the end."

While Sir Howard Davies left the Thames Estuary proposal off the original shortlist, political pressure resulted in a fudge whereby the commission requested more time to consider the idea of a brand new, four-runway hub in east London.

Davies will announce in September whether the estuary plan remains in contention with the other three schemes. As well as Heathrow and Gatwick’s own blueprints for an additional runway, the Heathrow Hub group has drawn up a scheme to lengthen the west London airport's two existing runways to effectively create a four-runway operation.

The commission will give its final recommendation in June 2015. No political party has promised to implement its findings. Johnson, who may yet be in a parliamentary role when a decision is made, said: "I will respect the findings of the Davies commission but I will not abide by them."

For more information on construction within the infrastructure sector, contact Suzy Riding at Glenigan on 01202 786721.

Do you think increasing airport capacity is key to driving Britain’s economy or has the issue become a political hot potato?  Get in touch with your views on our social media channels via the icons at the top of the page.

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