Mayor clashes with Sir Howard Davies as terms of airport review are unveiled

Borish Johnson

Boris Johnson slammed the government for its “inertia” over the issue of airport capacity around London, as Sir Howard Davies prepares to layout the terms of reference of his review into the issue today.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4  Today programme this morning, the mayor of London said he may not accept the findings of the Davies Commission, which has been set up by the government to produce an independent review of aviation capacity, and reiterated his call for the review to publish its findings before the next general election in 2015.

Currently the commission is not scheduled to report until after the election.

Johnson said: “It’s great shame that Howard Davies isn’t able to come up with what I think is the logical solution, which is to decide now, or in the next year or so, between the major options.

“It’s going to be toxic and disastrous to go into the election of 2015 with Heathrow runway three still on the agenda, millions of Londoners in a state of great anxiety and uncertainty, about whether or not they’re going to suffer from severe noise pollution.

“Can I tell you, in the next nine years, how many runways they’re going to build in China? They’re going to build 52. How many in the UK? None at all. It is a policy of utter inertia.”

Johnson, who is opposed to an expansion of Heathrow in favour of a new airport in the Thames estuary, added that he may not accept the findings of the review, particularly if it came out in favour of Heathrow expansion.

The mayor has set up his own review of the issue, headed by Daniel Moylan, which will report before 2015.

He said: “I have great respect for Howard and we look forward to cooperating fully with his inquiry and to giving him all the benefit of the investigations that we’ve done into this matter.

“I didn’t say I would accept the results of the inquiry at all. There is every possibility that the government, under pressure from business, will come up with that they think is the best short-term solution, which is to go for the third runway at Heathrow.”

Sir Howard, also speaking on the Today programme, defended the review, saying it would do “a lot of the preparatory work”, to allow the next government to “have a flying start”.

He said:  “I have reflected quite hard on the criticisms about long-grass that the Mayor of London and Michael Heseltine say, that this is booted into the long-grass. So I decided politics dictate that for reasons we all understand – the coalition have said they won’t make this decision before the election. So how can you make best use of your time in the long-grass?

“What I think we can do is to do a lot of the preparatory work. You need to produce a national airport policy statement, which the government would have to do before it did anything on capacity. You need to do detailed cases, you need to do environmental assessments, noise assessments, but you do have to do all of that and I think we can do that so that when a new government comes into office in 2015 when they make a decision it will have a flying start.

“We will do two things. One; we’ve been asked specifically to look at the options for increasing capacity within the existing framework of airports. That means how you can make better use of existing runways, whether you can move flights around to use capacity that is spare in some of our airports in the south-east. So that’s point one which could be significant because that could have a relatively short-term impact.

“Point two will be to narrow down the range of options; expansion at Stansted, connecting Gatwick and Heathrow – Heathwick as it’s now known – fast rail link between the two, somehow networking our airports in the south-east. So we will be looking at all the options there are and trying to narrow them down to a small number that look feasible and plausible to us – that’s what we’ll be targeting to do by the end of next year.”

Sir Howard added that there was a need to build a political consensus around the eventual solution: “I think in order to build consensus you’re going to have to adopt a systematic approach, we’re going to need to challenge the demand forecast – do we really need this? A lot of people say you don’t.

“You’re going to need to question whether it’s realistic to think of an island in the Thames Estuary and you’re going to need to do some detailed work on that to find out if it’s realistic or not. So I think you can run a number of options and do in-depth work on each of them

“We have a significant team of people from Whitehall, not just the Department of Transport. This is a substantial piece of work. I aim it to be a really expert piece of work looking at how you think about airport capacity which I hope internationally will be leading edge.”