The government must look beyond the idea of a third runway at Heathrow to achieve necessary airport capacity, engineering and transport experts have said.
The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) said the aviation debate has become too heavily politicised and that the long-term choice was not whether to build a third runway at Heathrow but whether the airport could realistically be expanded.
ICE and CIHT said that the UK will need more national hub capacity in the future, and that plans for an alternative hub airport in the South East must be developed sooner rather than later.
Alex Lake, from ICE's aviation expert panel, said: “Looking to the longer term, to maintain its global economic competitiveness, the UK needs a hub with more than three runways and rapid access to central London.
“If we decide Heathrow can't or shouldn't be expanded to this size we will need to develop a new hub facility elsewhere in South East England. This will naturally take time, so the Davies Commission must press on with evaluating all available long-term options now.”
The Davies Commission has been asked by the government to recommend options for maintaining the UK's status as an international hub for aviation.
The institutions call for a “twin track” approach to aviation capacity, which pushes ahead with solutions that will maintain the UK's position as a leading aviation hub in the longer term.
ICE’s Alex Lake added: “When it comes to the UK’s airport infrastructure needs, there are some tough political and public choices, but the UK’s reputation is on the line. We must establish an agreed, coherent strategy that reflects our future capacity needs and sets out how they could realistically be met over both the short and long term.
“The transport and engineering profession stands ready to contribute expertise gained on recent large-scale projects – not least the Olympics – and ensure the commission receives robust advice on the challenges and deliverability of all the solutions on the table.”
A Department for Transport spokesman commented: “The strength with which the different options are put forward shows precisely why we were right to set up a proper independent review with the timescale to consider fully what is in the country's interest.
“Maintaining the UK's status as a leading aviation hub is vital to our economy and history suggests that, without an agreed evidence base and a high degree of political consensus, it will not be possible to deliver a lasting solution that is right for the UK.”
Key ICE and CIHT recommendations:
- A “twin track” approach to aviation capacity, which pushes ahead with realistic long-term as well as shorter-term solutions
- Introduction of an Act of Parliament to create a time-limited delivery body like the Olympic Delivery Authority to implement the Davies Commission’s recommendations
- Actions to ensure that regional airports can fulfil their role.
The two organisations were responding to the government's draft aviation policy framework consultation which looks at what, if any, new airport capacity is required to meet the UK's medium- and long-term needs. The consultation closes on 31 October 2012.