Government pressure builds to safeguard Newcastle airport connections

Airports Commission will hand Government report on runway expansion with shortlist of viable options

An aerial view of Newcastle International Airport
An aerial view of Newcastle International Airport

The Government will this week come under pressure to safeguard North East airport connections to London.

North East business leaders have urged David Cameron to choose an expansion of Heathrow over the brand new Thames Estuary airport London Mayor Boris Johnson favours, which has been dubbed ‘Boris Island’.

They say the region relies on its link to Heathrow and its expansion will see more connecting flights reach Newcastle International Airport, providing the extra jobs and trade the North East economy needs.

Should the Boris Island scheme not make shortlist to be published this week then it will almost certainly signal the end of the Estuary plan, which has also faced criticism from Heathrow staff.

Along with the shortlist, the Government-appointed Airports Commission will hand over a report proposing the enhanced use of existing runways while plans are finalised.

It is thought the commission will include in its options a third runway, or possibly even a fourth, at Heathrow, putting pressure on David Cameron, who campaigned on promises not to expand and ruled out the possibility in 2010.

Opponents to Heathrow expansion say a U-turn would be disastrous and would represent an “off-the-scale-betrayal”.

Boris Johnson said such an expansion was “environmentally disastrous” and “bad for London and the country”.

Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, whose west London seat would be affected by the growth of Heathrow, said: “David Cameron himself has to really think very carefully about this.

“Politically a U-turn on this issue would be catastrophic for him. You have to remember it wasn’t just a few party speeches, David Cameron went to every single constituency affected and stood up and said ‘no ifs, no buts, there will be no Heathrow expansion’.

“If he does a U-turn on this issue it would be an off-the-scale betrayal and he will never be forgiven in west London.”

The commission, which is chaired by former Financial Services Authority chief Sir Howard Davies, will release its final report, in summer 2015 – after the next general election.

It is not until then that the experts will make firm proposals on just where the expansion should best take place. With there being no need for a definite decision for more than 18 months, the commission could choose to list a number of options in its report on Tuesday, while saying that nothing has been ruled in nor ruled out.

In a speech in October this year revealing the commission’s “emerging thinking”, Sir Howard said: “Our provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south east of England in the coming decades.

“To rely only on runways currently in operation would be likely to produce a distinctly sub-optimal solution for passengers, connectivity and the economy and would also almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact of flights and travel to and from airports.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer