Snub for Boris as MPs back Heathrow expansion

By Jo-Anna K. Burnett

An influential Commons committee has slapped down the idea of building any new airports in London, in a move which will spark anger in City Hall.

In a direct snub to London mayor Boris Johnson, the transport select committee said Heathrow should be expanded before there are any moves to build a new transport hub on the Thames estuary.

"Aviation should be permitted to expand and accept that more capacity is necessary to accommodate sustainable aviation growth," said Louise Ellman, chair of the transport committee.

MPs concluded that an estuary airport would require substantial investment from the public in "new ground transport infrastructure" and could interfere with the nature and wildlife habitat.

Officials said a third runway at Heathrow was clearly needed but held open the possibility of a fourth as well, amid fears that the UK economy was suffering from a lack of airport capacity in the south-east.

"Adding new runways to expand a number of other existing airports will not, on its own, provide a long-term solution to the hub capacity problem," said Ellman.

"We do however encourage Gatwick’s operator to develop a robust business case for their vision of a second runway."

A high-speed rail link between existing airports would not address problems in the country's air travel demand, MPs said.

They suggested the government "take a more active role in promoting airports in regions outside the south-east".

There were also recommendations for a national strategy to improve rail links, in a bid to address problems in surface transport to connections out of key UK airports.

The decision of the transport committee to come down firmly on the side of Heathrow expansion is a major shot in the arm to the campaign to focus investment on the existing infrastructure, but it will be greeted angrily by West London residents, noise pollution campaigners and City Hall.