Gatwick takes aim at rival with pledge to stagger expansion

Britain’s second-biggest airport will seek to seize the initiative from Heathrow in the new year by pledging to create extra capacity over four phases between 2021 and 2040, as opposed to one large-scale construction project, reports The Times.

The move is intended to soften the blow of a new runway while spreading the costs over a longer period to minimise disruption.

It comes a week after the government delayed its decision over where to build a new runway in the southeast for at least another six months.

The government-appointed airports commission strongly recommended in the summer that additional capacity should be created at Heathrow rather than at Gatwick because it promises greater economic benefits and more jobs. However, Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, announced that a final decision would be put off until next summer, pending further analysis of the environmental and noise impact of a new runway.

Gatwick has been keen to exploit pollution levels around Heathrow, claiming it already breaches European limits, which would force the government to reject its £17.6 billion expansion plans.

In the new year, Gatwick will make a further appeal, saying that work on its own £7.7 billion expansion would eventually create capacity for 95 million passengers — more than double the present 40 million.

The first part of the plan, costing £2.98 billion, would entail a new runway and third terminal being built by 2025, bringing its capacity up to 63 million passengers. Phases two and three would expand the terminal, create new aircraft gates and fully divert the A23 around the airport. The fourth phase would involve the completion of the terminal and piers, while finishing off taxiways for passenger jets by 2040.

Mr McLoughlin hinted last week that a second runway at Gatwick had emerged as a real contender, urging people not to “fixate” on proposals for a third runway at Heathrow.

Sally Pavey, the chairwoman of Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions, warned that any plan to prolong the work would be “hell” for residents in West Sussex.

“The idea of living in the shadow of an ever-expanding airport for almost 20 years will just be unbearable,” she said.

“We’ve moved to this area to get away from urbanisation, from noise and pollution, and it just seems like we’re being deemed insignificant because we want a quiet, outdoor life.”

However, Stewart Wingate, the chief executive of Gatwick, said: “Gatwick’s construction project is phased so that, in future, airport capacity can be released as demand dictates.

“Unlike Heathrow, which requires huge upfront costs and relies on numerous complex and interdependent components, phasing keeps our project simple and the finance and environmental risks low. This makes it an even easier decision for the government to make now and means Gatwick’s is the only scheme that can open by 2025.”