The Davies Report has been an extensive review of the options for London airport expansion. It has taken years and looked at heaven knows how many documents from innumerable interested parties. It falls squarely into one of my unfailing rules of thumb as a city analyst, which was that the longer and more detailed a report, the greater the likelihood that its conclusions were plain wrong.
I have no doubt that Davies was swayed by the sheer weight of in its favour that Heathrow undoubtedly brought to the commission until he lost sight of fundamental factors and recommended the third runway at Heathrow.
In my view, Davies has come up with the worst of the conclusions that he might have reached. Thankfully there is a let out in that the Government has not bound itself to follow blindly his recommendation.
In contrast, I commend the hard work and sound common sense of the Council’s H&F Heathrow Committee, which came to a different conclusion.
On a pure business case, I am sure that Heathrow expansion makes excellent sense with its existing connections and infrastructure, ease of access, existing customer base and established workforce.
Clearly its expansion is far cheaper than starting afresh elsewhere.
But the objections to Heathrow expansion are not about business, and the decision is very far from being a pure business case. The single biggest objection is about noise. There are clear allegations that the commission played down the environmental and noise impact of an expanded Heathrow.
Noise directly affects people’s health. It also deprives them of sleep and sleep deprivation and disturbance has a significant impact on someone’s mental and physical health. These factors are difficult to measure, easy to downplay, but of paramount importance to the well being of west Londoners and the residents of this borough.
The northern runway at Heathrow will greatly increase the number of people suffering from this – bringing with it a flight path that goes down the Goldhawk Road rather than the river.
The severe curtailment of flying times and prohibition on night flights suggested by the Davies Commission is far from being a satisfactory answer. Planes do arrive late, or early. Five or six in the morning is a period of very deep sleep for many Londoners. Major hub airports worldwide operate 24 hours – with time differences and long haul flight times it is difficult not to. The pressure to extend flying times at Heathrow will be immense, and the expansion of much needed long haul destinations, particularly to China, will increase this pressure.
Another major objection is safety. It does not make sense to have the major flight path of a major airport directly over the centre of a major global city. If you were starting with a clean slate, no way would anyone put a hub airport just west of central London.
We concede the need for expanded capacity that can be brought on stream in fairly short order. Our preference is for a second runway at Gatwick and enhanced connections between the two airports, or, failing that, for the westward extension of the existing runway at Heathrow.
But these are still relatively short term fixes. Longer term, I believe we shall be building a major hub airport somewhere in the Thames estuary. Other cities have taken such bold decisions and I trust that at some stage we shall gather enough courage to do the same.
Meanwhile, I am pleased that the Council is unanimous in rejecting the Heathrow third runway proposals.