Business leaders back third runway at London Heathrow

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A third runway at London Heathrow is "the most credible solution" to meeting the need for increased airport capacity in the UK over the next 15 years, an independent commission has said.

London First's Connectivity Commission, a group of business leaders tasked with reviewing transport links to and from the capital, has strongly recommended that the government revise its national aviation policy to include an expansion of Heathrow.

The coalition government in November ruled out the proposal to build a third runway due to concerns about noise and local air pollution. But the commission argued that today's aircraft are much quieter than those manufactured 20-30 years ago and said, to tackle local air pollution, rail transport links could be improved and road congestion cut.

"Britain faces severe public sector financial constraints and low growth from its traditional major export markets," said the commission in its report, entitled London, Britain and the world: Transport links for economic growth.

"The need to seek out growth and demand in new markets makes the case for a privately-financed, fundable and deliverable means of growing London's connectivity in the next decade even stronger."

Other proposals for increasing capacity in the UK include creating a dual hub linking Heathrow to another airport or building a new, four-runway hub in the Thames Estuary.

The commission said a new hub did not have the political commitment, funding and planning permission to be constructed in the medium term. Moreover, the business leaders were "sceptical" that a dual hub model could deliver the minimum connection time required by passengers and available at other European hubs.

"A third runway at Heathrow appears to the commission to be the most credible solution to meeting London and the UK's vital need for increased hub capacity in the next 15 years."

The UK Department for Transport responded by reaffirming its intention to explore all options for maintaining the UK's aviation hub status "with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow".

"The government will consult on an overarching sustainable framework for UK aviation this spring and alongside this we will publish a call for evidence on maintaining effective UK hub airport connectivity," said a DfT spokesperson.

The Connectivity Commission also recommended that Heathrow should be able to allow aircraft to land and take-off concurrently on both runways, as long as measures were put in place to mitigate the local impact of additional noise. This would increase runway capacity by 10-15%, the group claimed.