David Cameron responds to the Davies Commission recommendation that a third runway be built at Heathrow

Prime minister David Cameron has said the government will respond to the Davies Commission’s final report on expanding airport capacity in the South-east by the end of the year.

The Davies Commission today produced its final recommendation - that an extra runway be built at Heathrow, over rival shortlisted options for a second runway at Gatwick or extending one of the two existing runways at Heathrow.

Speaking in Parliament today, both Cameron and transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the government would take time to digest the report before responding - and cited legal advice that they should not make statements that could leave the government open to a judicial review challenge.

Cameron said: “It is important now there is a very detailed report that we study it and I am very clear about the legal position, that if we say anything now before studying the report, actually you can endanger whatever decision is made.”

The five-member panel, headed by economist Sir Howard Davies, unanimously suggested Heathrow for a new runway, which it estimates will cost £17.6bn.

The Commission concluded that a new runway at Heathrow presented the “greatest strategic and economic benefits” – providing around 40 new destinations from the airport and more than 70,000 new jobs by 2050.

It recommends that the new runway option at Heathrow is combined with a package of measures to reduce the impact of a bigger airport on local residents.

Recommended measures include a ban on all night flights, a legally binding “noise envelope” and the creation of a fund to finance mitigation programmes such as home insulation (see box below).

Davies judged that a longer Heathrow runway would only deliver a smaller increase in capacity. A second runway at Gatwick offered less economic benefit as growth would most likely come from short-haul European routes, rather than long-haul flights, Davies said.

A new runway at Gatwick is reportedly the preferred option for government ministers, with a report in the Sunday Times suggesting Chancellor George Osborne was open to backing the Gatwick bid.

Despite unanimous support from the Commission to Heathrow as the preferred option, the final report appeared to leave the door open to expansion of Gatwick, with the final report saying that remained a credible alternative.

Davies said: “At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.

“Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.”

The commission estimates construction of a second runway at Gatwick would cost £7.1bn, while the option to extend the northern runway at Heathrow would cost £14.4bn.

CECA chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “The Davies Commission has reported after three years of work. It is now vital that the Government takes immediate action on aviation policy and implements the final recommendations from today’s report.

“Unless the congestion problem is addressed now, the UK will become a less attractive place to do business with and to visit.”

Suggested conditions for Heathrow expansion:

  • A ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, which is only possible with expansion
  • No fourth runway: the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further - there is no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow
  • A legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport
  • A new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities
  • A legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will only be released when it is clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed
  • A Community Engagement Board, under an independent chair, with real influence over spending on mitigation and compensation and over the airport’s operations
  • An independent aviation noise authority, with a statutory right to be consulted on flightpaths and other operating procedures at all UK airports
  • Provision of training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people, so that nearby communities benefit from the jobs and economic opportunities