Airports Commission ‘buried’ doubts over Heathrow expansion, claim councils


Councils have accused the Airports Commission of ‘burying doubts’ about expanding Heathrow and ‘deliberately underselling’ a rival scheme to develop Gatwick.

Almost two months since the Howard Davies led body recommended that a third runway be built at Heathrow instead of Gatwick, a cross-party group of South London local authorities has unearthed a letter suggesting the economic case for the decision was ‘grossly exaggerated’.

The letter from two of the commission’s expert advisors professor Peter Mackie and Brian Pearce questions the reliability of forecasts produced by PWC that expansion at Heathrow would deliver up to £147bn in growth.

Writing to the commission, the pair said the figures included ‘a high degree of overlap between the direct and wider impacts’ and relied on ‘economic growth and other assumptions which are at the extreme end of the range’.

The figures were used throughout the Airport Commission’s final report.

Contrasting government data, using established approaches to economic modelling, predicted growth in the region of £33.6 - £54.8bn for a Heathrow expansion and £27.2 - £47.1bn for Gatwick.

The experts warned that using the £147bn figure to illustrate the benefits of Heathrow could mislead the public.

Their letter was revealed by councils including Croydon, Kingston, Southwark and Wandsworth, which are investigating the Commission’s decision.

Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said: ‘It’s clear the commission has based its recommendation to expand Heathrow on a grossly exaggerated economic case. Their own expert advisors tore apart the PWC growth forecasts but their evidence was buried and ignored. Sir Howard and his team were hell bent on presenting Heathrow as the best option and refused to let reality get in the way.’

Southwark Council leader Peter John branded the Commission’s final report a ‘crude attempt to mislead Government policy’.

Croydon Council leader Tony Newman added it was ‘clear the scales have been weighted against Gatwick expansion’.

However the Airports Commission said the information was taken into account in the recommendations made to government. A spokesperson said: ‘The evidence in the final report was subject to extensive analysis and consultation and we are confident that it is fit for purpose.’

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