The head of the Airports Commission has intervened in a row over London airport expansion by urging ministers to reject calls to expand Gatwick instead of Heathrow.
Sir Howard Davies (pictured) pressed the government to approve a third runway at Heathrow – as recommended by the commission – and reject attempts to swing the decision in favour of its West Sussex rival.
He separately attacked London mayor Boris Johnson, a vocal opponent of Heathrow expansion, insisting that his analysis of air capacity was “flawed”.
His comments were made in letters to the Department for Transport and the London Assembly, the Times reported.
Writing to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Sir Howard effectively urged the government to reject Gatwick’s case.
He said Gatwick’s claim that a cheaper runway would lead to lower charges for passengers compared with those at Heathrow was “entirely misguided”.
Sir Howard, now chairman of RBS, also advised ignoring Gatwick’s “over-simplistic” claims that the cost of building a third runway would escalate.
It was “nonsense” that the commission had played down the impact of noise associated with an expanded Heathrow, he wrote, adding that up to 200,000 people could face less noise as a result of a third runway.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Heathrow plan has focused on the level of pollution, with an influx of cars on roads around the airport. Sir Howard insisted the government was already tackling pollution concerns.
He also insisted that “limited weight should be placed on the suggestion that air quality represents a significant obstacle to expansion”, despite mounting concerns over pollution after the VW scandal, according to the newspaper.
Gatwick chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “I am sure many people will be surprised that Sir Howard maintains that ‘limited weight’ should be placed on the issue of air quality as an obstacle to airport expansion.
“It is currently at illegal levels at Heathrow and it is hard to see how millions more car journeys with a third runway will not make it even worse. Only Gatwick can guarantee that the country gets the economic benefits that it needs from aviation expansion.”
Minsters are expected to make a decision on a new runway by the end of the year.
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