Heathrow airport expansion: There’s no need to make a stark choice between a third runway and the environment

Gavin Hayes
Airport expansion is fundamental to securing the capital’s long-term success (Source: Getty)
During the summer, the government made a commitment to announce a “final decision” on airport expansion by the end of this year. Since the office Christmas party season has already begun, that deadline is fast approaching.
Yet in recent days, there have been reports of possible further delays. This would almost certainly cause investor uncertainty and be unacceptable to the business community.
Back in July, after three years consulting experts and the general public, the Airports Commission published its findings with a clear recommendation to expand Heathrow. It cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, in what must have been the most thorough and comprehensive investigation into the future of aviation capacity ever conducted.
So what business needs from any government announcement in the coming days is a clear and final decision to implement the recommendations of the Commission and give the green light to a third runway at Heathrow.
Airport expansion is fundamental to securing the capital’s long-term success. As our only international hub, Heathrow needs more capacity if we are to boost our exports. This is because 26 per cent of all UK exports go via Heathrow every year, and £48bn of British goods were exported out of Heathrow last year alone.
The prospect of more political fudge from the UK government would surely make our global rivals rub their hands with glee. As we have dithered, delayed and put off a decision on expanding aviation capacity, other European hubs expanded years ago.
Opponents of Heathrow’s expansion will continue to cite environmental concerns. Indeed, the Environmental Audit Committee this week said that the government needs to set out concrete proposals to mitigate the environmental impact of a new runway. But the fact is the Airports Commission has already put forward robust analysis in this respect, coupled with a number of strong proposals.
First, analysis carried out by the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body comprised of some of the most respected climate change experts in the land, concluded that a 60 per cent growth in flights is compatible with meeting our legal obligations on reducing carbon emissions.
Second, the Commission proposed a package of strong mitigation measures that would make life better for people living around the airport. This included a ban on night flights, a new “noise envelope” that could stipulate no overall increase in current noise levels, and a guarantee to keep air quality within EU limits. It also included a £1bn community compensation fund, the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority, and ruling out a fourth runway altogether.
So there’s no need to make a stark choice between securing our future prosperity and that of the environment, as some opponents have argued. We can deliver airport expansion sustainably to high environmental standards while also ensuring we create the decent jobs and growth that we need to compete internationally.
There can surely be no excuses for any more dithering and delay. After all these years of protracted consultation, the time has come for the government to just get on with it.

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