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Shock £17bn taxpayers' bill for Heathrow expansion revealed

25 April 2016

UK taxpayers could be asked to fork out a staggering £17 billion to cover the costs of transport links needed to manage a massive surge in traffic from Heathrow expansion, according to confidential estimates disclosed today.

Transport for London (TfL) documents released following an investigation by mobility and environmental campaigners have revealed a multi-billion-pound gap in the official figures for the costs of road and rail improvements required by a third runway at Heathrow.

According to the agency in charge of the London transport system, the real price tag for boosting surface access to an expanded airport is nearly four times the figure put forward by the Government-appointed Airport Commission.

The revelation will reignite the longstanding controversy over who will pay for the road and rail works needed to absorb the massive surge in traffic from a new runway. The Government has made it clear that it expects aviation expansion promoters to cover any surface access costs, but Heathrow bosses have said they are not willing to pay anything above £1.1 billion.

An analysis of the TfL figures released today show this would leave a shortfall of at least £17 billion. The funding gap is large enough to throw into question both the financing and feasibility of a crucial part of the project.

The documents, released to Greenpeace following a Freedom of Information request, contain the first detailed comparison of the contrasting estimates by the Airport Commission and London’s transport agency. They show the figures published in the Commission’s report failed to take into account the costs of key rail schemes, extra buses, additional operational spending and road traffic management.

A third runway at Heathrow is expected to put an extra 30 million passengers on the London transport network every year by 2030, stretching the existing capacity to breaking point.

In the documents TfL stresses that all the transport upgrades included in its cost estimates will be essential to manage the increase in traffic. It also warns that if surface access issues are not solved, there will be ‘serious implications’ for the Government’s ability to meet its legal obligations on air pollution.

Environmental and transport campaigners from Greenpeace, Campaign for Better Transport and HACAN are calling on the Treasury to come clean over the real costs of expanding Heathrow and guarantee taxpayers won’t be left to pick up the bill.

Back in February, Andrew Tyrie, chair of the influential Commons Treasury Select Committee, wrote to George Osborne asking for more details about the calculations which led the commission to come down in favour of a third runway at Heathrow.

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “These figures reveal a gaping hole in the financing for Heathrow expansion. The UK public needs to be told the full truth. If the Government picks up the tab for the extra costs, this would be a £17 billion taxpayer-funded subsidy by another name. It makes no sense to waste billions on a project that jeopardises efforts to meet legally binding targets on air pollution and climate change. George Osborne should come clean with UK taxpayers on whether they’ll need to bail out this project before it has taken off.”

Campaign for Better Transport Chief Executive Stephen Joseph said: "Astonishingly, this cost is even greater than the Government's hugely wasteful national road building programme. Spending this amount of money in London would worsen the North/South divide, whilst bringing little benefit to the capital. What London needs is investments in public transport to help people get around the city, ease congestion and tackle air pollution, rather than squandering limited funds on unnecessary airport expansion. While people elsewhere in England might well ask: What would the Northern Powerhouse be able to deliver with this level of investment?”

HACAN Chair John Stewart said: “What makes these figures so compelling is that they have not been plucked out of the air. Transport for London has done its sums. All their figures are backed up by detailed, painstaking work. The Government ignores them at its peril when making up its mind about new runways.”

Both sets of estimates include the costs of major road schemes, such as putting part of the M25 in a tunnel and widening sections of the M4. But, crucially, the Airport Commission’s estimates overlooked the cost of additional buses, road traffic management, and major rail improvements such as an upgraded Great Western Main Line, a new rail link through Staines and an extension to Crossrail 2 running from Teddington to Heathrow.

The Government is expected to give the green light to a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick later this year after the EU referendum has taken place.

ENDS

All documents, including a summary table showing the contrasting estimates by TfL and the Airport Commission, can be found at energydesk.greenpeace.org

Notes for Editors:

  1. According to the TfL documents, the Airport Commission’s estimate for surface access costs adds up to £4.2 billion, but a figure of £5.7 billion has also been reported.
  2. Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye told the Environmental Audit Select Committee at its inquiry last year that Heathrow would only be prepared to pay £1.1 billion towards improved road and rail access
  3. TfL estimates the overall bill for road and rail improvements to top £18.2 billion. Taking out the £1.1 billion Heathrow bosses said they’re willing to pay, that would leave about a £17 billion funding gap to be plugged.

For more information contact:

Stefano Gelmini, Greenpeace UK press office, 07506 512 442, sgelmini@greenpeace.org

John Stewart, HACAN, johnstewart2@btconnect.com, 020 7737 6641/ 07957 385 650

Alice Ridley, Campaign for Better Transport Press Officer, alice.ridley@bettertransport.org.uk, 020 7566 6495/07984 773 468