Airport expansion in the South East Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The work already done

1.The arguments for and against expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century. Indecision by Government has remained constant over much of the same period. Few now disagree that additional airport capacity is needed in the South East if the UK is to remain economically competitive. The creation of the Airports Commission briefly held out the hope that an evidence-based decision would end years of political dithering, but the Government has largely squandered this opportunity by delaying its decision and calling for further work. (Paragraph 18)

2.We have reviewed the findings of our predecessors in light of the Government postponing its decision on airport expansion; we have seen no new compelling evidence that would change the balance of the arguments and we endorse their conclusions and recommendations. Expansion at Heathrow offers the greatest economic benefit and would do more to improve connectivity internationally and within the UK. We recognise that local residents and environmental campaigners have raised legitimate concerns; these deserve serious consideration. We do not under-estimate the scale of the challenge but we believe that the noise and environmental effects can be managed as part of the pre-construction phase after a decision has been made on location, as can the challenge of improving surface access and devising suitable schemes for compensation for residents in affected communities. It is vital that a decision is taken. (Paragraph 19)

3.We recommend that the Government take a decision on location at the earliest possible opportunity. We would prefer that decision to be for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, together with the package of accompanying measures recommended by the Airports Commission. (Paragraph 19)

Further delay

4.The crucial decision on location was widely expected. The other “decisions” amount to nothing more than an acceptance of the Airports Commission’s findings on the need for expansion and the viability of all three shortlisted options. These decisions serve only to confirm what was already known. The Government could have made clear its acceptance of the findings much earlier; it did not need six months to do so. (Paragraph 24)

5.The absence of a decision on location creates uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the lack of clarity the Government has created about exactly when a decision will be taken. A decision on location is not the end of a process; it is the start of one. We accept that the package of measures to mitigate environmental impacts needs careful consideration and further work. We do not accept that all of this needs to be done before a decision is taken on location. In fact a decision on location would give more focus and impetus to this work. In the absence of a decision on location any “progress” is illusory. Real progress cannot be made without a decision on location. The detailed and evidence-based work of the Airports Commission on environmental issues provides an ideal starting point for any further work on environmental issues to be undertaken in parallel with the other pre-construction work. (Paragraph 25)

6.The Secretary of State should make clear which parts of the Commission’s findings he has accepted, what he has rejected and on what findings further evidence is required before he can take a decision. The Secretary of State must set out a clear timetable for the decision, making clear what additional work has been commissioned, when it will be completed, when the Economic Affairs (Airports) Cabinet sub-committee will consider its recommendation to Cabinet, and when the Cabinet will take a decision on location. The Department should publish this information by the end of April 2016. (Paragraph 26)

7.By delaying this decision the Government has created uncertainty that could have an effect on business confidence and its willingness to make long-term investments in the UK. Not only will this have a cost to the UK economy in terms of missed opportunities, but it is a gift to Heathrow’s and the UK’s international competitors. The cost of this delay is measured ultimately in lost growth and jobs. It is not just businesses that are affected; residents near Heathrow and Gatwick expectantly awaiting a decision are held in limbo. And people up and down the UK who could benefit from improved international and domestic connectivity are forced to wait. (Paragraph 33)

Further work

8.The apparent need for further work has again delayed the crucial decision on location. On balance, we believe it likely, indeed probable, that the Secretary of State and the Department have thought through their approach and that it has a sound basis. We are not, however, persuaded that the Government has made a case publicly for delaying the decision. We are also not convinced that this work must be done before the Government can take a decision on location. (Paragraph 37)

9.As well as making clear the timetable for further work and taking a decision, the Department must also make much clearer than it has to date what work is being done and why. The Government needs to be more open and transparent or the perception that this is yet another attempt to “kick the can down the road” cannot be adequately challenged. (Paragraph 37)

Revised timeline for decision and construction

10.A decision by Government on location is the beginning, not the end, of a process. The Government is right to have chosen to proceed by a national policy statement on airports and a development consent order rather than a hybrid bill procedure. The certainty over the timetable for a decision that this process will give is welcome and it will afford those affected by the development a chance to make their case. It will be important for the Government to be clear about not only the consent needed to build a new runway and its associated infrastructure but also where separate transport and works orders might be needed for improvements to surface access. Certainty over the timetable for the process is useful but only becomes truly meaningful once a decision on location is taken. (Paragraph 40)

11.We urge the Government to take a decision on airport expansion without further delay. (Paragraph 40)

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21 April 2016