A third runway at Heathrow is being recommended by the Airports Commission while a second runway at Gatwick is described as a ‘credible’ option’.
Expansion of the west London hub would add £147 billion in economic growth and 70,000 jobs by 2050.
It would also connect the UK to more than 40 new destinations around the world including 10-12 new long-haul routes.
Sir Howard Davies's (pictured) report said that the new runway should come with severe restrictions to reduce the environmental and noise effects.
Night flights would be banned and the government would make a Parliamentary pledge not to build a fourth runway at the airport.
An aviation noise levy would fund insulation for homes and schools and a legal commitment would be made on air quality.
Sir Howard said that a second runway at Gatwick was a "credible" option but was less able to provide connections to long-haul destinations and would create lower levels of economic growth.
The Commission described building a second runway at Gatwick as feasible, “but the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller”.
A third option for extending the present runways at Heathrow was rejected.
London Mayor Boris Johnson responded immediately by claiming that a third runway at Heathrow will never be built.
But transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “As a nation we must be ambitious and forward looking. This is a once in a generation opportunity to answer a vital question.
“I will make a statement to Parliament later today in which I will set out the process for that decision to be made.”
Sir Howard said: “Over the past two and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process.
”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 north-west 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.
“Adding capacity at Heathrow also provides an opportunity to change the airport’s relationship with its local communities as some overseas airports have done.
“To make expansion possible the Commission recommends a comprehensive package of accompanying measures including a ban on night flights and a new noise levy to fund a far stronger and more generous set of compensation and mitigation schemes.
“And as there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway, the government should take action in Parliament to rule it out firmly and finally.
“This is a detailed and comprehensive report, based on a significant volume of technical material, and the government will need to review our analysis carefully.
“The Commission urges it not to prolong this process, however, and to move as quickly as it can to a decision.
“Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected, open trading economy in the 21st century.”
His comments were echoed by the Confederation of British Industry, which said: “Growing airport capacity is vital for the UK’s economy, yet as we delay, our competitors are using their spare capacity to gain new trade and business.
“We cannot afford to delay the UK’s economic future any longer.
“With an imminent capacity crunch in the south-east, growing spare runway capacity is absolutely critical to the whole of the UK’s economic future – it simple isn’t an optional “nice to do”.
Gatwick chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said that the airport is still “very much in the race”.
He said: “The Commission’s report makes clear that expansion at Gatwick is deliverable.
“It is for the Commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the government to decide. So we now enter the most important stage of the process.
“We are confident that when the government makes that decision they will choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option. For instance, this report highlights the very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow such as air quality and noise impact.
“Gatwick will give the country the economic benefits it needs and at the same time impact far less people. It is quicker simpler and quieter. Above all - after decades of delay - it can actually happen.”
The Commission claims its recommendation is a “fundamentally different proposition” from previous proposals to expand at Heathrow.
It delivers a full-length runway, maximising the connectivity gain. It is situated further west than the current runways, which will help to reduce the number of people affected by noise.
It is accompanied by strong measures to limit the impacts on those living nearby, including:
- 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.
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