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The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has attacked a major inquiry into airport expansion as too slow just hours before it is due to be launched.
Johnson said the inquiry, headed by the former Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies, should not even consider a third runway at Heathrow, which he said would be “a complete disaster for the people of London”.
The mayor, who has become more adamant in his opposition to a third runway, said it would be toxic for the Davies commission to report after the general election in 2015 adding that it represented a “policy of utter inertia”.
“Its going to be toxic and disastrous to go into the election of 2015 with Heathrow runway three still on the agenda,” he told the BBC’s Today programme, adding that the commission should not even consider a third runway because it would simply be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
“As soon as that runway came on stream, you would not only be aggravating the nuisance for … millions of other Londoners, you would immediately find you would need to build a fourth runway.”
Davies’s task is to bring out an interim report by the end of 2013 and then a full report in summer 2015 – after the next general election.
Airlines and airport operators are pushing for more capacity, particularly in the south-east. But unanimity about just how to achieve this is in short supply, with Johnson backing a new Thames estuary airport and others preferring to see expansion at Heathrow or at one of the other major airports.
“What you can’t do, and what is completely wrong for this country, is to continue to put a quart into a pint pot, continue to expand Heathrow, put a third runway then a fourth runway and inflict more and more misery on the people of west London and expect that to count as a long-term solution to the infrastructure needs of this country. This is really, really desperately bad economics,” Johnson said.
London’s mayor also suggested that the review would not be reasonable or impartial: “I think there’s every possibility that the government under the pressure from business will come up with what they think is the best short-term solution.”
The former Tory cabinet minister Lord Heseltine has also been critical of the government, saying this week that he would like to see more progress on airports and other big infrastructure problems.
Expansion at the airport is fraught with political sensitivity, with widespread opposition in west London and the Liberal Democrats firmly against it.
The Tory MP for Richmond Park and a former green adviser to Cameron, Zac Goldsmith, said he would quit his seat if Cameron reversed his opposition to a third runway. He has described a U-turn on the issue as an “off-the-scale betrayal“.
Davies was appointed in September after Patrick McLoughlin took over as transport secretary from Justine Greening. Greening, who represents Putney in south-west London, was also firmly opposed to a third runway at Heathrow and her move to international development during a recent government reshuffle was seen by some as reopening the door to Heathrow expansion after it was ruled out at the last election.
Lady Valentine of the business lobby group London First told the BBC she was “frustrated by 50 years of prevarication” over the issue.
“Pragmatically we have to welcome the commission as a once-in-a-generation change to get cross-party consensus around some rational and independent evaluation of the options.”
Valentine acknowledged that Heathrow expansion would increase noise pollution but added that it would be “bizarre not to consider our existing international airport as one of the options”.