The Airports Commission has recommended building a third runway at Heathrow, a scheme it claims will add £147bn to the UK economy and support 70,000 new jobs by 2050.
Ministers set-up the Commission, which is chaired by former Financial Services Authority boss Howard Davies, to investigate options for future airport expansion.
In December 2013 it rejected plans put forward by London Mayor Boris Johnson for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary and shortlisted proposals to expand Heathrow and Gatwick.
Further growth at Heathrow is opposed by the Mayor and all four parties on the London Assembly, as well as some local residents, noise campaigners and leading candidates to replace Mr Johnson at City Hall next year, including Tory hopeful Zac Goldsmith.
The Commission’s report said any new runway at Heathrow should be restricted to day use and that there should be a “legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport”.
It also called for ministers to rule-out building a fourth runway.
Commission chair Sir Howard Davies said: “Over the past 2 and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process.
“At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.”
He added: “Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.”
The report has been welcomed by John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport who said: “This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy.
“Our new plans have been designed around the needs of local communities and will meet carbon, air quality and noise targets, and provides the greatest benefit to the UK’s connectivity and its long term economic growth.
“We will create the world’s best connected, most efficient and most environmentally responsible hub airport at the heart of an integrated transport system.
“The Commission has backed a positive and ambitious vision for Britain. We will now work with Government to deliver it.”
The report’s recommendations were also welcomed by Colin Stanbridge, Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mr Stanbridge said: “The time for talk is now over. We urge Government not to kick this report into the long grass but give clear political leadership and move swiftly on expanding Heathrow.
“However Ministers should also be considering how to future-proof the UK economy. The Airports Commission has said that a new runway will provide the capacity the UK needs until 2040. Gatwick is a strategic economic asset to the UK and its post 2040 potential should be considered in governmental long term thinking.”
Mayor Johnson described the report’s recommendations as “disappointing” and said its backing of a new Heathrow runway “compounds not solves the issue”. He predicted a third runway “will never be built”.
Downing Street says ministers will study the report and avoid making “a snap judgement”.
Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Commons transport select committee, said the Commission’s recommendations “echo those of the Transport Committee I chaired in the last Parliament, when we concluded that a third runway at Heathrow was necessary for the UK to maintain its status as an international aviation hub.”
She added: “My Committee in the last Parliament set a challenge for the 2015 Government to quickly get to grips with the recommendations of the Airports Commission and not seek excuses for further delay.
“For too long airport expansion has been viewed as too difficult, with decisions deferred and postponed. To do so again would present serious risks for the UK’s economy.”
Mr Goldsmith commented: “Sir Howard Davies seems to have begun with a conclusion a few years ago, and spent £20m of public money justifying it.
“Against all the available evidence, he is effectively proposing that we spend vast sums of taxpayer money subsidising the creation of a huge foreign-owned monopoly.
It is hugely disappointing that he has ignored the key evidence he received in the course of his work. On every level, Heathrow expansion is the wrong answer.
“Sir Howard has addressed an aviation model that is becoming obsolete. Transfer traffic across Europe has been declining for years because of technology changes and the rise of low cost carriers, while point-to-point trips are increasing.
“His is the telegram approach in a broadband age.
“We need a super-competitive network, with our three main airports competing properly for customers. Above all that means investing in better surface links.
“The Commission has now reported, and the Government must respond to it. It will surely conclude that Heathrow is expansion is neither legally nor politically deliverable. MPs, Council Leaders, residents across the giant flight path will come together in a campaign to make sure of that.”
Darren Johnson, chair of the all-party Assembly Environment Committee, said: “The Committee has expressed its opposition to Heathrow expansion time and time again, so it is with disappointment that we learn of today’s outcome.
“The large body of work put forward by the Committee shows that this isn’t the best way forward for London’s growing population and as the voice for Londoners we urge the Government to examine the Committee’s evidence.
“A new runway at Heathrow would affect the quality of life for tens of thousands of people living and working in the area. Air pollution, increased noise levels and congestion can adversely affect health which is why we have opposed this option for such a long time.”
Ravi Govindia, leader of the council in Wandsworth council, claimed the Commission had “failed to understand the legal, political and environmental barriers that ensure Heathrow expansion will never happen.”
The borough is beneath the airport’s flightpath and its residents would be among those affected by increased noise.
Mr Govindia said: “A third runway would inevitably push Heathrow’s world leading noise and pollution impacts to new highs and severely damage the quality of life across the UK’s most densely populated region.
“The environmental controls Davies suggests are inadequate, untested and in some cases undeliverable.”
Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said today’s report “simply repeats many outdated arguments in opting for a third Heathrow runway.”
She said a third Heathrow runway would have devastating consequences “in terms of noise and increased air pollution” regardless of the number and nature of conditions put in place for its use.
She added: “By advocating a third Heathrow runway it seems all the evidence for better using the extensive spare airport capacity at airports such as Stansted have been rejected. The commission’s inability to consider a future with fewer internal and European flights is also depressing.”
Labour’s Assembly transport spokesperson Val Shawcross said: “We will now take the time to examine Sir Howard’s findings closely but it is clear that any decision on airport expansion, whilst controversial, has to be evidence based.
“Howard Davies and his team have clearly carried out an in-depth and detailed analysis of the options for airport expansion and it’s now up to Government to issue a prompt response to his recommendations. What nobody wants to see is yet more years of paralysis and indecision.
“It is vital that any final decision recognises the importance of a comprehensive programme of environmental and surface transport improvements for Heathrow to help mitigate the environmental and noise impact of the airport with or without expansion.”
Stephen Locke, Chair of passenger watchdog London TravelWatch, said any new airport capacity must be met by an increase in local public transport links.
He commented: “As soon as a final decision is made on extra capacity, plans will be needed for a major step change improvement in public transport infrastructure.
“This means improving connections, providing direct rail links from South London, North West Surrey and the Thames Valley to Heathrow Airport and prioritising electrification of the North Downs rail route which serves Gatwick.
“Current links just aren’t good enough for current demand levels, let alone those projected in future.”
David Lammy, one of six hopefuls vying to become Labour’s mayoral candidate, said Mr Johnson had now “lost all credibility” on the issue of air expansion.
Mr Lammy, who backs a new runway at Heathrow, said the Mayor had wasted “millions of taxpayers’ money and years” pushing his ‘Boris Island’ Thames Estuary scheme.
Earlier this month Lammy blasted rival Sadiq Khan,a former transport minister, for changing his mind on expanding Heathrow just days after Zac Goldsmith said he hoped to become the Tory mayoral candidate.
Mr Khan has tweeted to day he’s “disappointed” by the Commission’s recommendation.
Another Labour hopeful, transport expert Christian Wolmar, said: “Heathrow will never happen because the cost to the public purse is too high and the environmental damage too great. Financially, the Heathrow proposal does not stack up.”
He also suggested Government backing for Heathrow would be politically difficult, commenting “ if this Tory Government adopts the report’s recommendation, it makes it impossible for them to support Zac Goldsmith as their candidate for London Mayor.”
Tom Chance, who is standing to be chosen as the Green party mayoral contender, said: “Airport expansion is economic folly, risking damage from climate change that will dwarf any short-term benefits.
“I’d sooner bet on Greece repaying its debts than Heathrow expansion to be squared with air pollution, climate change and noise concerns.
“I’m calling on all Mayoral candidates from all parties who care about London’s future to unite in opposing any airport expansion.”
Conservative MEP Syed Kamall, one of Mr Goldsmith’s rivals to become the Tory mayoral candidate, said: “By recommending Heathrow expansion if there are ‘new measures to ensure acceptable air quality around the airport’ , the Airports Commission has chosen the worst of all possible worlds.
“Heathrow expansion is undeliverable, but even if it were to happen it would only be a sticking plaster since further expansion would soon be necessary. This whole process has been a complete waste of time, money and energy.”
“We shouldn’t be planning for the next five years, we should be planning for the next 50.”