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How the Davies Commission on airport expansion asked the wrong question

01 July 2015

Richard Blyth

The Davies Commission final report has produced as expected no more consensus than there was before. Could it be that it asked the wrong question? The question asked was 'Is there a need for more airports capacity and if so what should we do about it?' The Commission concluded that there was a need, a matter I am not qualified to examine, at least not here.

The Commission then moved on to consider solutions. It invited sites to be submitted by promoters, the way that infrastructure is now provided in the UK. It included “reduce the effects of housing loss” as a criterion for selection of sites for airport expansion, but it did not include “scheme most likely to assist creation of the most houses” as a criterion. Economic growth was regarded as something which could be positively encouraged through airport expansion, so why not housing? Arguably there is a far greater need for housing in the London area than for economic growth. We can hardly house all the people the current economy needs. And if the economy of the London region is to grow, we will need a lot more housing. I am not against economic growth, but I am against skewed economic planning which priorities jobs and leaves homes, schools and health floundering.

Economic growth was regarded as something which could be positively encouraged through airport expansion, so why not housing?

Equally for transport. All the deliberations of the Commission were around how to “accommodate” (their word) the impact of people travelling to the airport. Nothing was said about how investment in surface access to the airport could also solve other serious problems around commuting in the south east. We have published a paper which sheds light on the real benefits for both transport investment and the wider economy and society of actually planning investment and housing together.

So my verdict on Davies? A response limited in vision, because the question asked was limited in scope.

Pity.

Richard Blyth is the Head of Policy and Research at the RTPI.