84.Echoing what our predecessor committees said repeatedly about expansion at Heathrow, it is regrettable that successive governments have failed to take the decisions needed to start the ball rolling sooner. That they have dodged and deferred this decision so often reflects the very tricky politics of airport expansion. If this was easy it would have been done before now. With some necessary changes, the Airports NPS is a suitable basis on which to move to the next stage of the planning process. The changes we have recommend are intended to improve the Airports NPS and minimise the risks of successful legal challenge and the possibility that the business case could be gradually weakened.
85.Expansion at Heathrow has been the debated for decades. It has political support across the country and much of the opposition to it comes, understandably, from the communities around Heathrow. But the Committee recognises that some of the support is conditional on improvements to Heathrow Airport’s surface access, holding cost and charges down and successful air quality mitigation schemes.
86.As we are still at a very early stage in the planning process much of the detailed of HAL’s scheme is unknown and uncertainties about certain aspects will not be reduced until much more of the jigsaw is filled in. The draft NPS relies on assumptions that may or may not be met and models that may or may not reflect what will happen on the ground. But this is to be expected at this early stage in the planning process. During the next stages, much more of the detail will need to be known and it can be more rigorously tested. Those stages will provide further safeguards on issues of noise, air pollution, cost, and deliverability beyond those we have asked the Government to include in the final NPS. Parliament should allow the process to move on to its next stage, provided that the concerns we have identified are addressed by the Government in the final NPS it lays before Parliament. Addressing the concerns set out in this report requires not only clarity of intention by Ministers but also clarity of funding and timetable. These are necessary if a successful legal challenge is to be avoided.
87.Airport expansion in the South-East will continue to demand a great deal of Government’s attention but it must equally focus on other areas of aviation policy if the conditions for growth are to be nurtured across the whole of the UK.
Published: 23 March 2018