Select Committee on Transport Fourth Report

5 Expansion

Adding capacity at Heathrow airport

66. In 2003, our predecessor committee concluded that the future of airport development in the United Kingdom would be centred on targeted expansion of existing sites,[73] but that

    a third runway at Heathrow would mean the destruction and relocation of a number of existing communities. Such a decision cannot be taken lightly.[74]

67. The need for a third runway at Heathrow was identified in the Government's 2003 White Paper, The Future of Air Transport. Proposals for a second runway at Stansted were also backed by the White Paper. A second runway at Gatwick—while supported in principle—was ruled out before 2019, in accordance with the 1979 planning agreement between the then British Airports Authority and West Sussex County Council.

68. On 22 November 2007, the Department for Transport published Adding capacity at Heathrow airport, a consultation document on its proposals for a third runway and sixth terminal to the north of the present site.[75] The Future of Air Transport was a policy document, as although central government has no role in authorising development at airports, in practice development relating to large areas of national infrastructure does not take place without support from Government.

69. The current consultation document sets out three scenarios for development at Heathrow and invites members of the public to 'register their views', not on whether expansion should or should not go ahead, but rather on the three critical tests that expansion must pass:

  • A noise limit - no increase in the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise (as measured by the 57dBA noise contour in 2002);
  • Air quality limits - being confident of meeting European air quality limits around the airport, in particular for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is the critical pollutant around Heathrow; and
  • Improving public transport access to the airport.[76]

70. We asked Mr Nelson why BAA had only recently advocated the development of a third runway. He told us that "up to [2003] there had been no government policy governing a runway expansion, no runway built in the last 50 years, and to that degree we have become very firm supporters of the policy."[77] BAA submitted a further memorandum, which gives a detailed history of their policy towards expansion.[78]

71. We questioned the Minister on the Government's consultation on expansion.[79] The Minister told us he was "very confident […] that we can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the severest public scrutiny that those environmental standards can be demonstrated."[80] When the Minister was asked what would happen if the conditions set out in the consultation document were not met, he told us that "We are satisfied now. We said that we would not go forward with support for the third runway unless we could satisfy ourselves that we could meet the criteria on noise and air quality."[81]

Implications of the Planning Bill

72. The length of the planning process for T5 was formative in the Government's decision to change planning law. The Planning White Paper mentioned the length of time it took to get planning permission for T5:

    The process for dealing with major infrastructure projects, from submission of the proposal to decision in particular, is too slow and complicated. It took seven years to get to a decision on Heathrow Terminal 5.[82]

73. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears) presented a Planning Bill to the House on 27 November 2007.[83] The Bill proposes "introducing a single consents regime for major infrastructure projects, establishing an Independent Infrastructure Planning Commission, and further measures to improve the Town and Country Planning System".[84] The Bill removes the need for planning permission in the case of nationally significant infrastructure projects.[85] The definition of "nationally significant infrastructure projects" includes "the construction or extension of an airport".[86] It is almost certain, therefore, that any new runway or terminal at Heathrow would be subject to the new planning regime envisaged by the Bill, rather than the current system.

Parliamentary scrutiny of National Policy Statements

74. In the debate on 10 December 2007, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government indicated that there would be Parliamentary scrutiny of National Policy Statements. The form that such scrutiny will take has yet to be decided but we anticipate that this Committee will have a role to play in it.[87]

73   Transport Committee, Aviation, para 229 Back

74   ibid, para 222 Back

75   Department for Transport, Adding capacity at Heathrow airport, 26 November 2007 Back

76   ibid., Ch.3 Back

77   Q 263 Back

78   Ev 81-84 Back

79   Qq 318-338 Back

80   Q 318 Back

81   Q 319 Back

82   Communities and Local Government, Planning for a Sustainable Future, Cm 7120, May 2007, para 1.20 Back

83   Bill 11 (2007-08). Back

84   Planning Reform Bill: Key Benefits, Back

85   Planning Bill, Section 29 (1)(a) [Bill 11 (2007-08)] Back

86   Planning Bill, Part 3, Clause 14, Subsection (1)(f) [Bill 11 (2007-08)] Back

87   HC Deb 10 December 2007, col 25 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 14 March 2008