Gatwick’s campaign to win approval for a second runway has been boosted as the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, joined executives at the airport calling on the new prime minister to back expansion at Heathrow’s rival.
The event came as Gatwick announced a further £200m to improve its terminal facilities, and a day after Theresa May’s new cabinet promoted several figures who oppose Heathrow’s third runway.
Khan said Gatwick had “put together a formidable plan that is a fantastic display of their confidence in London”.
He added: “The new prime minister has a very important decision to make regarding new airport capacity, and I urge her to rule as swiftly as possible in favour of a second runway at Gatwick, which would bring substantial economic benefits.”
While Khan had already made his support for Gatwick known, the event marks the first time since the Airports Commission was established in 2012 that a key political figure has shared a stage with executives at the contending airports to declare their partisan support.
Gatwick’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “As Gatwick rapidly approaches full capacity, this increased investment paves the way for our second runway project. It is now clear that only Gatwick can deliver the runway Britain needs to boost international competitiveness and trading links at a time when it is most needed, and we can do that before 2025.”
The debate over where to build a new runway around densely populated London has been raging for more than 25 years, with environmental opposition to expansion at Heathrow preventing earlier proposals being developed there.
David Cameron had promised to make a decision by the end of last year on whether a new runway should be built at Britain’s largest airport, Heathrow, or Gatwick, but then backed away from a controversial issue that divided the Conservatives.
The Airports Commission recommended in July last year that a third runway at Heathrow should be built, but in December the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that further investigation into noise, pollution and compensation was needed.
Last month the DfT said the decision had been deferred until “at least October” following Cameron’s resignation as prime minister.
A Heathrow spokesman said the Airports Commission had disagreed with Khan, adding that Brexit loaded the dice further in favour of the west London location.
“Following an independent, £20m, two-and-a-half-year deep dive into the issue of airport capacity, they confirmed that Heathrow expansion could provide the capacity the UK needs more easily and quickly than any other option.
“Brexit makes the commission’s conclusion that, with Heathrow expansion, ‘the benefits are significantly greater for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy’ even more persuasive.”
However, campaigners believe that the tide has turned against Heathrow. The campaign group Hacan republished archive material which showed that the new prime minister fiercely opposed the third runway in 2009, telling constituents: “We need a better Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow.”
The chancellor, Philip Hammond, declared his support for Gatwick in an article in his local constituency newspaper in 2013, while the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and the education secretary, Justine Greening, have long opposed Heathrow expansion.
Hacan’s chair, John Stewart, said: “There must now be a real question mark over a third runway. Heathrow will argue that its proposals now offer more to residents than the 2009 plan, but these archives make very clear that we have a prime minister who has expressed strong opposition to Heathrow expansion.”