The purpose of this inquiry was to examine the Government’s willingness to address the significant environmental implications of the Airports Commission’s recommendation in relation to carbon emissions, air quality and noise. It was not to reopen the debate over airport capacity expansion, nor to reopen the debate over locations of additional capacity. If the Government decides to accept the Commission’s recommendation, we will invite the Secretary of State for Transport to give evidence to the Committee on the Government’s approach to these issues.
If the Government decides to go ahead with the Commission’s recommended option, it needs to demonstrate a step change in their approach to mitigating the environmental impact. Ministers will need a high degree of certainty that their own policies are robust enough to deliver the mitigations required. They will need to set out, before making the final decision to go ahead, clear and binding responsibilities and milestones to ensure environmental standards are enforced and measures can be implemented, monitored and evaluated in a timely way. Failure to do so could see the project caught up in protracted legal disputes, lead to environmental standards being missed and introduce an element of commercial risk.
On carbon emissions, the Commission set out a theoretical approach that could deliver airport expansion within current planning assumptions for aviation emissions. However, we found a significant gap between that approach and the current policy environment. This is a major concern and the Government should demonstrate at the earliest opportunity it can close that gap by setting out its approach to international negotiations on aviation emissions and putting in place a strategy to deliver aviation emissions by 2050 no higher than those in 2005.
On air quality, the Government will need to re-examine the Commission’s findings in the light of its finalised air quality strategy. Meeting legal limits and protecting health and wellbeing are vital. The Government should be clear that significant deterioration in air quality on the roads leading to Heathrow will not be permitted simply because another area of London is more polluted. Progress on air quality will depend to a large extent on how far a modal shift can be achieved, moving passengers from private road vehicles to public transport. Before making its decision, the Government should set out its assessment of what would be required in terms of infrastructure improvements, agreed responsibilities for funding and milestones for completion.
On noise, we strongly support the Commission’s proposed ban on night flights. We also urge the Government to establish an Independent Aviation Noise Authority and a Community Engagement Board in the next year, whether or not it proceeds with expansion at Heathrow. The Government also needs to establish how noisy a future three-runway Heathrow would be relative to a future two-runway airport.
Prepared 30 November 2015