Airports Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies says future demand will dictate whether Heathrow or Gatwick is chosen for a new runway, while the chances of runways at both are 'nil'.
He was speaking in a press briefing in Westminster today where the Commission outlined three options in its interim report on how to meet future demand of capacity and connectivity in London and the South East.
The independent study outlined it will carry out a further detailed study of proposals for new runways – one at Gatwick and two different options at Heathrow.
Davies says although both do not agree on much, they do that the commercial case for runway expansion will be at either and not both.
“Both agree on one thing, the chances of both building a runway together at the same time is basically nil. They both agree the commercial case is not there, and it is really about which goes first.
“Maybe Heathrow to 2030 and then Gatwick maybe after, but not both at the same time,” Davies says.
“And the question we have to look into is what is going to be the case (for demand) in the future, as this is going to the central issue between choosing between Heathrow and Gatwick,” Davies added.
Development of a Thames Estuary Airport, on the Isle of Grain, which is being heavily backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson, has been left on the table by the Commission and will be further investigated.
But Davies seemed to mute potential development of the ambitious project that would be built 33kms from London, although he did say it is the ‘most plausible location’ for a new airport.
But he says there would be ‘severe’ logistical challenges, and the Commission is also ‘concerned’ about the scale of the proposed construction.
“The Commission has gone backwards and forwards on the Estuary Airport proposal.
“It would have substantial economic, environmental and surface access impact so we need more time to consider it.
“Our proposal is to carry out a further investigation into it in the first half of next year, to look out whether it is a credible option alongside the others.
“We do not have the evidence to make a firm decision on it, which is why were have chosen to look into it further.”
The Commission forecasts the project would cost between £80-110 billion, significantly higher than the £50 billion previously suggested by planners.
And if built, it would have a high environmental impact, and surface access was an major issue, with major transport infrastructure work needed.
Much talk has been on how does London meet future airport capacity demands.
Some say one main hub to meet capacity demand is the answer for the future, but some say increased capacity should be met and shared at existing airports by expanding each.
And Davies says assessing potential future demand is key part of the Commission’s work in determining, which is the best option for the South East.
“It is an open question whether London will be better served in the long run with a constellation of airports, with different price levels, or to have one big hub.
“That (the one hub) strikes me as quite risky though,” Davies says.
Davies was also asked if politics had influenced the Commission’s decision, but he flatly refuted this and that there had been any influence.
He says the short-list was made up quite a while ago and no high profile public support for some options backed by Boris Johnson and PM David Cameron had an influence.
The Commission will now consider the three options it has put forward and also gather further evidence for the case of the Thames Estuary Airport on the Isle of Grain.
The Commission will make a final recommendation to the government in the summer of 2015, after the next General Election.