The Government has laid before Parliament a proposal for an Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) and our Committee was designated to carry out parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s proposal. Our Report completes that process and we expect the Government to bring forward a final NPS for approval by both Houses that takes account of our recommendations. After that the NPS will be designated by the Secretary of State under the Planning Act 2008; this is an early but important step in the planning process. Votes to approve the NPS in both Houses of Parliament in effect give outline planning permission for construction of Northwest Runway (NWR) and associated developments at Heathrow Airport.
The NPS is meant to be a statement of existing policy so that in the process of issuing a development consent order, there can an objective assessment of an application and the extent to which it is compatible with the Government’s policy objectives and the outcomes it requires; it is the yardstick against which any application for development consent will be judged. We recommend that both Houses of Parliament allow the planning process to move to the next stage by approving the final NPS, provided that the concerns we have identified are addressed by the Government in the final NPS it lays before Parliament.
The case for runway expansion in the South East is broadly accepted, although a significant minority rejects the need for expansion. We accept that there is a case as set out in the Airports NPS for additional runway capacity, in particular hub capacity. This is on the premise that any expansion is sustainable, consistent with legal obligations and that suitable mitigations will be in place to offset impacts on local communities affected by noise, health and social impacts.
The Airports Commission identified the NWR scheme as having the greatest benefits (and costs) of the three schemes it examined; but it found all three schemes were viable. The Government picked Heathrow Airport Limited’s proposal for a NWR as its preferred scheme. The Government’s case is based on a NWR scheme providing more connectivity for passengers and freight, better value for money and greater strategic benefits than the other schemes.
We agree that Heathrow Airport would be the first place to look if you wanted to build another runway in the South-East. It is the UK’s only major hub airport; it is one of Europe’s leading hubs and has a reputation worldwide, especially for its transatlantic connections. Airlines are keen on expansion at Heathrow (but not at any cost) and expansion at Heathrow would consolidate existing connections; these are unrivalled at any other airport in the UK. The Government was right to look at Heathrow first and we commend it for the work it has done to bring this work to the point where both Houses of Parliament can express an opinion through a debate and vote.
We conclude that the Government is right to pursue development at Heathrow and accept the strategic arguments the Government has made in favour of its preferred scheme. The NWR scheme should offer the greatest strategic benefits, provided it can deliver the expected capacity, at the costs outlined in the NPS and on the timetable projected. The economic benefits are broadly comparable across the three schemes the Government has examined in its analysis. Nevertheless, the Government should ensure that the NPS reflects the weight of evidence in the supporting documents, particularly with respect to the balance of environmental, social and health impacts.
Safeguards and mitigations are needed to ensure that the interests of passengers are protected, and the adverse environmental, social and health impacts on affected communities are appropriately mitigated. We acknowledge Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) and the Government’s efforts to mitigate the environmental and social impacts from this scheme. We also acknowledge the ambition they share that airport charges do not increase in real terms because of airport expansion.
We have recommended several additional conditions of approval to be included in the final version of the NPS on air quality, surface access, connectivity, costs and charges, noise, community impacts, resource and waste management. Sections of the draft NPS dealing with these matters should be revised before a final NPS is tabled for approval by both Houses of Parliament.
A suite of policy measures is also required if the NWR scheme is to be delivered effectively, namely with respect to airspace change, national policy on air quality and carbon budgets. The NPS is not the appropriate instrument to resolve all these issues but they should be resolved as a matter of some urgency. We recommend that Government outline its intended policy approach to delivering airspace change for its preferred scheme as a matter of priority.
The UK’s aviation sector needs reassurance that Government policy will ensure existing capacity can be maximised and aviation growth is fostered across the country in a sustainable way before additional capacity becomes available in the South-East towards 2030.
Published: 23 March 2018