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Airports clash offers lessons for Adonis

This week, Construction News played host to fighting talk.

Gatwick’s director of construction Raymond Melee, who spoke at the recent CN100 Breakfast Club and gave us an exclusive interview afterwards, is adamant that Heathrow cannot – and will not – build an additional runway.

He pulls no punches when he claims Heathrow won’t be able to guarantee the air quality, deliver the volume of construction work or hit the deadlines required – all of which Heathrow denies.

Mr Melee was not only criticising Gatwick’s rival, but also the Airports Commission that made the decision.

Even after the commission unambiguously recommended that the additional runway should be at Heathrow, Gatwick never gave up the fight, continuing to take every opportunity to get its message out there.

Commission questioned

Since the government delayed its decision in December, Gatwick has seized on this additional chink in Heathrow’s armour.

Most of us – even the contractors who want to deliver the work, whichever airport is chosen – are not familiar with every one of the Airport Commission’s arguments. But Mr Melee, in challenging just one of its data points – namely that Gatwick would not hit 41m passengers until 2026 when in fact it is on the verge of doing so already – effectively raises wider questions over the commission’s choice.

“Lord Adonis and co must be transparent in their decision-making, discuss and share the data they are using and, significantly, act at speed”

Whether these claims and counter-claims will make any difference remains to be seen. The government has already made a mockery of its promise that the commission would take the politics out of the decision – the move to delay it makes clear that the end result is in fact entirely political.

Contractors tend to try to avoid getting drawn into politics. The letter that major contractors sent to the chancellor two weeks ago urging him to move forward with a runway at Heathrow is borne more of impatience to start work somewhere – anywhere – than a strong preference for a particular site.

Clear and present decisions

But there are important lessons here for the National Infrastructure Commission, which has a similar remit to the Airports Commission but across a greater number of projects and priorities. Lord Adonis and co must be transparent in their decision-making, discuss and share the data they are using and, significantly, act at speed.

As major projects from runways to new nuclear continue to face delays and uncertainty, the NIC must deliver on its vision and defend its decisions, however much flak it may receive.

 

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