Select Committee backs R3, with conditions

The Transport Select Committee has published its report on the AIrports National Policy Statement, and says Government should approve the expansion of Heathrow, with conditions on noise and costs.

The report says Parliament should approve the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), after Government addresses the concerns it sets out, which include air quality, surface access, scheme costs and airport charges, and noise.

Specifically, the report requests:

  • a written commitment of policy support for Southern and Western Rail Access be made by the Government in the NPS.
  • more detail on proposed changes to the M25.
  • that a condition be included in the NPS that ensures approval only be granted if the target for no more airport related traffic can be met, or that as a condition of approval, capacity be released at the airport, after construction, only when the target is met
  • more clarity on how Government intends to secure 15% of new slots for domestic connections
  • that a condition be included in the NPS that airport charges be held flat in real terms.
  • the Government’s proposal for a six and a half hour night-flight ban be extended to a minimum average period of seven hours.

Government now has the opportunity to make changes to the NPS, before it is laid before both Houses of Parliament for debate.

A decision by Parliament to approve the Airports NPS would allow the planning process to move onto detailed work around scheme design and in effect gives outline planning permission for the Government’s preferred scheme, a Northwest runway at Heathrow Airport.

The Committee accepted there is a case for additional runway capacity, particularly hub capacity and that expansion at Heathrow could deliver the Government’s strategic objectives for greater connectivity for passengers and freight.

They recognised the efforts made by the Government and Heathrow Airport to mitigate the significant social and environmental impacts arising from expansion at Heathrow.

They say additional safeguards are needed to ensure that the interests of passengers are protected, and the adverse environmental, social and health impacts on affected communities are addressed.

The Committee also identified associated policy measures that were required if expansion at Heathrow was to be delivered effectively, including policy on airspace change, wider Government policies on air quality, noise and surface access improvements, and effective use of existing airport capacity.

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: “The Committee’s recommendations improve the NPS and reduce the chance of a successful legal challenge.

“The Northwest Runway scheme, as set out in the draft NPS, is the highest cost expansion option and one of the largest privately financed infrastructure projects anywhere in the world.

“At present, the draft NPS does not guarantee that passengers will be protected from the cost risks associated with the scheme. The Secretary of State must set out how airport charges will be held down.

“During our inquiry, we heard how communities might be affected. Thousands of people across London could be exposed to worse levels of noise, air quality and traffic congestion – there must be sufficient measures to protect or compensate them.

“The Government and Heathrow have made efforts to mitigate these significant impacts, but safeguards on air quality, surface access, connectivity, costs and charges and noise should be strengthened. As a matter of urgency, we also want to see how the Government plans to deliver the necessary airspace change.

“This must all be done before a final NPS is tabled for approval by both Houses of Parliament.”

Neil Carberry, CBI Managing Director for Infrastructure and People, said: “Improving the UK’s infrastructure really has to be at the heart of our industrial strategy, if it is to have the desired effect of giving the British economy a shot in the arm.

“With the new global links that it will bring, and the opportunity to unlock jobs right across the UK, getting on with building the third runway at Heathrow is a vital part of this equation.

“It’s now critical that the National Policy Statement is finalised and approved by Parliament by the summer to allow construction to begin by 2020, and a new runway to be operational before 2030. This will be crucial if we want to set ourselves up for success and be an outward-looking, trading nation, post-Brexit.

“It is important that this project forms part of a long-term aviation framework for the whole of the UK.”

Heathrow Southern Railway welcomed the call for greater clarity on surface access improvements contained in the report, which notes that schemes such as Southern and Western Rail Access are important for a two-runway Heathrow even before a three-runway airport is developed.

The report recommends a written commitment of policy support for Southern and Western Rail Access be made by the Government in the NPS, along with the provision of clarity around funding and the timeline for delivery, which schemes are needed to support current two-runway operations at Heathrow and which are needed to support an expanded Heathrow. The report also calls for the UK Department for Transport’s updated surface access modelling to be published so that the likely impact on road and rail congestion of a new North West Runway at Heathrow scheme is known.

Commenting on the Committee’s report, HSRL Executive Director Graham Cross said: “We welcome the importance attached by the Committee to improved rail access to Heathrow from both the South and the West for both the existing two-runway Airport and in the context of expansion. HSRL’s scheme for southern rail access to Heathrow is well developed, and the work carried out by AECOM and the rest of our expert team confirms it is a viable, deliverable and affordable proposal for growing the proportion of passengers accessing the Airport by train. In so doing, we can provide one of the key elements in a strategy to reduce road congestion and improve air quality.”

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