Heathrow bosses have publicly put their chances of getting Government approval for a third runway at 70 to 80%. Ministers are set to back another runway in the South East by mid December, with Heathrow on the brink of victory.
Aviation experts feared the Government would put off a decision on airport expansion, as has happened for decades, rather than risk a huge battle against environmentalists and local residents blighted by more flights.
Nicholas Ministers of the Evening Standard writes, Heathrow bosses have publicly put their chances of getting Government approval for a third runway at 70 to 80 per cent, with a 20 to 30 per cent likelihood of ministers kicking the issue into the long grass.
There has also been talk of a delay on the airports announcement until after the London mayoral election next May as Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith has vowed to resign as MP for Richmond Park, which would spark a by-election, if the Government backs a third runway at Heathrow.
But the Standard understands that ministers are determined to make a firm decision by the end of the year to go ahead with another runway in the South East, with Heathrow expansion the clear favourite.
If the west London airport is allowed to expand, the Government is expected to demand a ban on a fourth runway and for stricter night flight limits than currently operate.
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, overwhelmingly backed another runway at Heathrow in July.
A special Cabinet committee on airport expansion, chaired by David Cameron, is to meet for the first time within weeks.
While no decision has yet been made, George Osborne today hailed the airports panel as a “good example” of what needs to happen to build the infrastructure that Britain requires.
Championing a new National Infrastructure Commission, the Chancellor said: “We have been talking about building a runway in the South East for 50 or 60 years."
“We now have an independent report that has forced the choice on the Government.”
He added that the Government had to follow proper procedure for its decision to avoid judicial reviews delaying expansion but he added: “Britain has really got to raise its game in getting these big projects underway.”
The timing of the announcement by December will further fuel speculation that the Government will opt for the west London airport.
If the Government were to instead choose a second runway at Gatwick, it would need strong arguments, and almost certainly fresh evidence to support them, to override the Airports Commission’s conclusions.
It would be vulnerable to legal challenges, according to some aviation insiders, if it relied on the Davies Report to support the case for a second runway at the Sussex airport.
Going for Gatwick would also deal a blow to the reputation of Sir Howard who was appointed as chairman of the largely State-owned Royal Bank of Scotland with the approval of the Chancellor.
Department for Transport officials are currently analysing the Commission’s findings on the three options shortlisted by Sir Howard, a third runway to the north west of Heathrow, extending its northern runway to in effect turn it into two, or a second runway at Gatwick.
Gatwick is still in the running, however, John Stewart, chairman of anti-Heathrow expansion group HACAN, said: “It’s all pointing for the green light to be given to a third runway at Heathrow.
“But the government may well say it’s got to be satisfied that noise and air pollution will be properly dealt with.”
Stringent air quality and noise conditions could be placed on a third runway, with aviation minister Robert Goodwill stressing last night that “some people might put more emphasis on the environmental considerations than the commercial considerations which Sir Howard very clearly understood”.
This article appeared in The Evening Standard on October 5th, 2015