While there were rumours that the decision on expansion at Gatwick or Heathrow was supposed to be made this week, the media are now reporting that that decision has been delayed for up to six months or more, taking it after the London mayor election.
A few years ago, when HS2 was first announced, the politically tricky problem of airport expansion appeared to have been dealt with: high speed rail was supposed to replace domestic air travel. With the appointment of Justine Greening, who made her political career opposing Heathrow expansion, as Secretary of State for Transport the government’s view appeared set.
Indeed in January 2012, Justine Greening announced that HS2 would definitely go ahead, the Department for Transport added in a link between Heathrow and HS2, and between HS2 and HS1, both of which could have helped with modal shift from air. (Modal shift from air to HS2 is now at 1%).
However, earlier this year, the Davies Commission into airport expansion said that the Heathrow spur was not needed and so the government dropped it formally. (The report also said that the HS2 interchange at Old Oak Common would help improve Heathrow access, potentially bolstering the case for Heathrow.) HS2 was even more clearly not a replacement for airport expansion.
Although Patrick McLoughlin has been talking about ‘cracking on’ with HS2 almost since he was appointed, cracking on with difficult announcements does not seem to be his strong point. A delay in airport announcements this week, follows on from last weeks announcement that many of the Phase 2 route decisions would be delayed for another year. The Department for Transport ‘decisions’ in-tray is stacking up like planes circling Heathrow, with difficult decisions still to be made.