A second runway at Gatwick airport should be built in addition to a third one at Heathrow, the London mayoral hopeful Gareth Thomas said.
Thomas, who represents Harrow West in parliament, believes the decision to expand both travel hubs should made immediately to help them compete with other major global airports.
“The Airports Commission has already said we will need a new runway by 2030 and another by 2050. My own instinct is we should take the decision to build two of them now so we can give confidence and direction to both airports, and not have to return to this issue in 20 or 30 years,” the Labour MP told Eastern Eye.
“There are many people in Harrow who work in Heathrow. I was struck by the number of people who said they wanted the third runway during the election campaign.
“Indian businessmen have said to me that they would like a third runway so they could get direct access to Gujarat because there is no direct link to Ahmedabad,” Thomas said.
The government’s Airports Commission is looking into the issue of airport capacity and is expected to publish its recommendations at the end of June. This could be delayed following the launch of new public consultation last month. It has shortlisted three options – a third runway at Heathrow or lengthening an existing one there, or building a second runway at Gatwick.
Thomas said: “We already face intense competition from other airport hubs around the world, many of which have more runways than we do at Heathrow. The option of doing both [at Heathrow and Gatwick] would keep London competitive. There is some suggestion that we are already losing trade because Heathrow is almost at full capacity and Gatwick similarly.”
The Airports Commission assessed that Heathrow expansion would create up to £211 billon of economic growth and 180,000 jobs across Britain. It also found that a third runway would require a public contribution of £3.9 billon for surface access improvements. The Gatwick option is expected to generate £90bn growth.
However, a previous decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow was overturned by the courts in 2010 on environmental grounds, due to the roads surrounding it already breaching EU pollution limits.
Residents living under the flight path have also expressed concerns about the extra noise pollution and disruption if the plan went ahead.
Thomas, a former trade and international development minister, said there had to be pressure on the aviation industry to bring emissions down.
“There is going to be some disruption and we will have to take decisions to manage air pollution. One of the biggest challenges will be travel to the airports – there has to be significant investment by the owners of the airports in the transport network to serve the new runways,” he added.
The Harrow West MP is competing against former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, MPs Sadiq Khan, Diane Abbott and David Lamy, and transport writer Christian Wolmar to represent Labour as the candidate for London mayor.
Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has revealed he would stand for nomination as the next Tory mayor of the capital. A long-standing campaigner against Heathrow expansion, he had threatened to resign and trigger a by-election if the government built a new runway at Heathrow.
Former England footballer Sol Campbell this week announced his intention to become the next Conservative mayor in a bid to “change London for everybody”.
Thomas believes there should be more devolution of power to London, which is at the centre of wealth creation in the UK.
“If London is to stay as the economic powerhouse of the UK, we have to make sure we’ve got the airport capacity to support that,” he said.
“The rest of the country has to accept that it will benefit from that too. Part of the quid pro quo of that has got to be London gets extra powers to spend a little bit more of the wealth that we create tackling London’s challenges – be it the housing shortages or the need for more investment in public transport.”