A new runway will be built at Heathrow or Gatwick by 2030 and the work being done now is vital to make sure the decision is legally watertight, the transport secretary has told sceptical MPs.
Questioned by the Commons transport select committee on Monday, Patrick McLoughlin insisted that the government had made progress on the issue of airport capacity and still hoped to give a final decision by July, reports the Guardian.
McLoughlin said questions over air quality in the light of revised government pollution targets, as well as the VW emissions scandal, meant evidence from the commission needed to be examined and more work had to be done.
He said: “I guarantee that there will be attempts to get judicial reviews on whatever decisions we take. To ensure we are in the strongest position it is right this exercise is carried out or we would have even longer delays in the process.”
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, made a “clear and unanimous” recommendation last June that an extra runway should be built at Heathrow, but in December the government further prolonged the debate by only agreeing that a new runway was needed, and deferring a final response on its location.
McLoughlin told MPs: “We did take a number of decisions, that we accepted the recommendations of Davies, the locations, the timescales – it was the location that we didn’t make a decision on.”
Committee chair Louise Ellman replied: “I think you know that location has to be the key decision and that’s what everyone expected the government to be announcing.”
The transport secretary said a likely EU referendum in June would not rule out a decision being made before summer recess. Previously, he had suggested the vote could further prolong the final verdict.
McLoughlin promised that a runway would be delivered by 2030, adding: “Business needs to be reassured that we are sticking by that date.”
However, the Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said it was “a little worrying” that the government was working to a 2030 timeline. “We’re working to 2025.”
He said he did not believe there was a need to preempt judicial reviews, adding: “The government has been stung by these before so I can understand them wanting to be sure it is robust.”
In an unusually strong attack on Gatwick, Holland-Kaye warned that the prime minister had a choice of a third runway at Heathrow or a Gatwick option that “will not get us to emerging markets, which does nothing for the regions of the UK, or for exports, that delivers a fraction of the jobs or the economic benefits, is less financially robust, does not have the support of business or unions, nor the local community, nor the airlines, nor politicians, nor the policy basis of the airports commission. That offers local people no respite from noise. That has only one motorway and one railway line.”
A Gatwick spokesperson said Holland-Kaye failed to mention “insurmountable barriers that had stopped Heathrow expansion time and time again”, adding: “What remains obvious is that Heathrow’s time has passed.”