MPs call for Heathrow expansion

heathrow planeMPs on the Transport Committee have rejected calls for a new hub airport east of London and urged the Government to permit the expansion of Heathrow where, they say, a third runway is long overdue.

The report by the all-party committee also suggests a four-runway Heathrow plan could be acceptable.

Launching the report of an inquiry that examined the UK Government’s Aviation Strategy, Louise Ellman, Chair of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee said: “Aviation is vital to our economy and it is essential for the UK to maintain its status with an international aviation hub offering connectivity to a wide range of destinations across the globe.

“We recognise that demand for air travel across the UK is forecast to grow, believe that aviation should be permitted to expand and accept that more capacity is necessary to accommodate sustainable aviation growth.

“We looked closely at the three main options by which the UK could increase its hub airport capacity. Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure. Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames estuary.

“The viability of an estuary hub airport would also require the closure of Heathrow – a course of action that would have unacceptable consequences for individuals (and)businesses in the vicinity of the existing airport and the local economy.

“Heathrow – the UK’s only hub airport – has been short of capacity for a decade and is currently operating at full capacity. We conclude that a third runway at Heathrow is necessary,  but also suggest that a four-runway proposal may have merit, especially if expanding to locate two new runways westwards from the current site could curb the noise experienced by people affected under the flight path.

“We conclude that adding new runways to expand a number of other existing airports will not, on its own, provide a long-term solution to the hub capacity problem. We do however encourage Gatwick’s operator to develop a robust business case for their vision of a second runway.

“We reject the notion of linking existing airports by high-speed rail to form a split-hub; the outcome from this would be highly uncompetitive in terms of passenger transfer times compared to competitor hubs overseas.”

Commenting on the report, London First’s chief executive, Baroness Jo Valentine, said: “It’s good that the Committee has endorsed the need to build new runways in the South-East, but that will take many years and we need additional air capacity as soon as possible.

“We have to make the existing airports work harder. There is space at Gatwick and Stansted and we can make space at Heathrow by using the two runways more intensively. And we need to invest in the rail links to Gatwick and Stansted, to bring them up to at least the same standard as those to Heathrow.

“That’s what the UK economy needs in the short-term and the government needs to move quickly to ensure that it happens.”

The London Assembly took the opportunity to restate its opposition to expansion at Heathrow, as London politics and business continue to clash over the issue.

Valarie Shawcross AM, Chair of the GLA Transport Committee, said:   “There is strong evidence that there is scope to make better use of London’s existing airports, including at Heathrow, to improve the capital’s connectivity, before any airport expansion. Many runways slots in London are currently available – for example, Luton and Stansted Airports have around half their slots free – and we hope that the Davies Commission will address this in its work.”

“The Commission should consider how ideas, such as improved transport to other airports, could encourage passengers to use this existing capacity.”

“It is essential that London’s thriving economy is supported, but not at the expense of the health of the thousands of residents that live under Heathrow Airport’s flight paths.”

The MPs Committee also called on the Airports Commission to address concerns that current DfT long term aviation forecasts may not take sufficient account of factors – such as HS2 – likely to impact the UK economy, and to assess the impact of introducing an unrestricted open skies policy outside the south east, to help airports in the regions secure new direct services.

Their report also asks for a national scheme to ensure adequate compensation for people affected by noise from expansion at Heathrow, to ensure that HS2 serves Heathrow, and to investigate whether it would be possible (under EU rules) to protect slots at Heathrow for feeder services from poorly served regions.

They ask for a review of how far Air Passenger Duty impacts on the UK economy and, if this provides clear evidence that the duty causes harm to the economy or government revenue, moves to significantly reduce or abolish APD.

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