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Sir Howard Davies and Sir John Armitt back MP airports vote

Former Airports Commission chair Sir Howard Davies and commission member Sir John Armitt have backed the government’s decision to take runway expansion to a vote of MPs in a year’s time.

Sir Howard described the vote as a “good thing” but did not comment on the delayed timeframe.

“We have a democracy so we should put it to a vote”, he said at MIPIM UK.

He added that if the government chose not to give the green light to Heathrow it would send a “very pessimistic message about infrastructure” in the UK.

He added that most of the arguments around not expanding Heathrow were around public protest – something that he said made him “nervous”.

“This suggestion that we can’t [expand Heathrow] because there’ll be public protest… is not a good way of making policy,” he said.

Sir John Armitt told BBC’s Today programme the decision to put runway expansion to an MP vote was a “route to a decision” and he could “see sense” in the parliamentary debate, which would reduce the risk of future governments changing their mind.

Asked whether he thought Heathrow would be the final decision, he said: “It’s what we recommended and I hope it’s what we’re going to get.”

But the Institution of Civil Engineers president added he hoped the debate would take place sooner than a year’s time.

“It is another delay and I’m not sure why it takes a year to take place. There has been a lot of consultation, MPs are well up to speed on the issue and I would have hoped that debate could take place sooner.”

Sir John was a member of the Airports Commission that recommended a third runway at Heathrow in July 2015.

Speaking at the launch of the National Needs Assessment for Infrastructure this morning, Sir John said he thought the decision to put the vote to Parliament more than a year from now was “great”.

He said: “It gives [government] more time and the opportunity to get cross-party support. It will demonstrate that the [democratic] process has been taken as far as it can go.

“Once that is through, it makes it much more difficult to reverse that decision or flip-flop, so that is the right approach.” 

A preferred scheme is expected to be announced by the transport secretary next week, before a consultation is published and a vote is put to MPs.

The decision will push back final agreement on the preferred option for runway expansion, with a vote not expected now until late 2017 or 2018.

But one infrastructure expert told Construction News the decision to hand a vote to MPs was likely to have been in place for a long time.

The source said that securing a National Planning Statement for the runway expansion would help to alleviate the risk of a judicial inquiry. 

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