The leader of an independent body set to back the expansion of Heathrow Airport has hit back at “quite astonishing” claims the group is biased.
The National Connectivity Task Force, led by former Newcastle City Council leader Lord Shipley, believes a third runway at Heathrow would be the best option for regional airports like Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley.
It comes as the Airports Commissions decides between the expansion of either Gatwick or Heathrow in the coming years.
But Gatwick Airport‘s chief executive Stewart Wingate, has lashed out at the Task Force, saying: “This taskforce has been set up by Heathrow, for Heathrow, and solely to serve its own ends. Despite its claims to some objectivity, this is clearly an exercise in manufacturing an outcome that suits Heathrow’s ambitions for a third runway.
“We know others in the industry, including other significant UK airports share this view. In fact, we estimate that passenger numbers at UK airports - other than Gatwick - that are opposed to expansion at Heathrow are more than double those at airports cited by Heathrow as in support.
“The issue of connectivity is crucial for the UK and is one that stretches far beyond just Heathrow.”
Expansion of Heathrow is also favoured by chiefs at Newcastle Airport and others across the country who access the long haul network there.
Lord Shipley called claims as “seriously misplaced”.
He said: “The attack from Gatwick is very wrong. The members of the Task Force have insisted throughout the six months of our work that we must do our work independently of the interests of Heathrow or any other airport.
“That was the condition of our agreeing to serve on the Task Force and it has been rigidly adhered to. We have put the public interest before the interest of individual airports throughout.
“We have always made it clear that our members gave their services voluntarily but that Heathrow funded the independent research. I am glad they did because otherwise the work would not have been done. That research is now in the public domain.
“The attack by Gatwick is seriously misplaced. Our report is evidence-based and they seem to be worried by that.
“Even worse, they have attempted to rubbish our report before they had even seen a copy. It is quite astonishing. Meanwhile I urge everyone to read our report and I am grateful to Gatwick for giving it so much publicity.”
The Task Force also found that RAF Northolt, which is a short taxi ride away from Heathrow, could be used - temporarily or long term - to boost capacity and better connectivity to the region.
Jock Lowe, Heathrow Hub director, added: “The National Connectivity Task Force has found that a new runway at Heathrow is the best option for the UK’s regions and nations. The report has also found that whilst the decision to expand runway capacity in the UK has been delayed, Britain’s regions have been forced to rely on overseas hubs for international connectivity.
“The report’s findings fully support our own research that only Heathrow can support the economic aspirations of all the regions and nations of the UK. Gatwick doesn’t have the transport connections or geographic advantages that make Heathrow so accessible to the whole country. Heathrow expansion will result in huge economic benefits that will spread across the UK, over and above that which would result from expansion at Gatwick. Heathrow is where airlines and passengers want expansion to take place.”