MPs call for tougher measures on night flights before vote on Heathrow expansion

Parliament should approve Heathrow expansion only if a proposed night flight ban is extended and that guarantees are made over landing charges not being raised to pay for a third runway, according to the transport select committee.

Currently, Heathrow implements restrictions on the amount of take-offs and landings at the airport but there is a government proposal for a night flight ban of six-and-a-half hours. However, MPs have ruled this should be slightly extended to seven hours in order to avoid disturbing local communities.

The committee has responded after scrutinising a draft national policy statement (NPS) on aviation, which will be voted on by parliament this summer. If given the green light by MPs then it will effectively give planning permission for the third runway.

Transport committee chair Lilian Greenwood has said the additional safeguards were necessary to reduce the chances of a successful legal challenge, which will likely happen if and when approval is given.

“At present, the draft NPS does not guarantee that passengers will be protected from the cost risks associated with the scheme, Greenwood added. “The secretary of state must set out how airport charges will be held down. Thousands of people across London could be exposed to worse levels of noise, air quality and traffic congestion - there must be sufficient measures to protect or compensate them.”

"The government needs to deliver on its commitment to give the UK the infrastructure it desperately needs and that means ensuring a third runway can finally get off the ground this year."
NIC chair Sir John Armitt.

Despite the added conditions, Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, (NIC) believes it’s hugely important that a vote happens this year and there is no more delay.

“The government needs to deliver on its commitment to give the UK the infrastructure it desperately needs, and that means ensuring a new third runway at Heathrow can finally get off the ground this year,” the NIC chair added. "Today’s call by MPs for parliament to approve the airports statement subject to some additional safeguards removes an important barrier to doing so. There now can be no excuse for not having a parliamentary vote on expanding Heathrow by the Summer, as I’ve previously called for,” he said.

This view has been echoed by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) which said any delays on a vote and expansion would undermine UK economic growth.

CECA director of external affairs, Marie-Claude Hemming, said: “The ability to fly for business and pleasure is an important part of our lives. Aviation is extremely important to UK economic growth and without it, global business opportunities would be reduced. The urgency of addressing a lack of capacity at the UK’s airports has only become more acute since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. The UK economy loses nearly £1.2bn per annum because of a lack of major airport capacity. Unless the problem is addressed the UK will become a less attractive place to do business with and to visit.”

Responding to the report, Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “The infrastructure sector will be pleased to see progress being made on the long awaited expansion of Heathrow. While MPs have provided a list of valid concerns and issues to be addressed, mainly around air quality, noise, passenger costs and value for money, they have also created much needed clarity on what needs to be happen before plans can be approved and construction starts, which is most encouraging. We should welcome the fact that the transport committee have produced a clear road-map for the airport and the Department for Transport to follow. This will help ease the legislative process for approval in the longer-term and ensure that Heathrow’s expansion plans work for all stakeholders across the UK.”

Groups opposed to Heathrow expansion have also welcomed the report by the committee. John Stewart, chairman of anti-expansion group Hacan, praised the MPs for recommending a series of “tougher conditions”.

Stewart said: “Although disappointed the committee didn’t reject the third runway, we welcome the tougher environmental conditions which it has recommended. In particular we welcome its recommended seven-hour night flight ban.”

Cait Hewitt, deputy director of campaign group the Aviation Environment Federation, said the committee’s conclusions has shown the scheme was “beset with a list of problems as long as your arm” and it was “hard to see” how the government could find solutions to the issues raised before a earmarked vote this summer.

Responding to the report, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “This report couldn’t be clearer - Heathrow is the right answer for the UK and parliament should green-light the policy for Heathrow expansion and allow the project to move into the planning phase. We are also clear that we will deliver an expanded Heathrow that is sustainable, affordable and financeable and maintains Britain’s position as a global trading powerhouse.”

MPs are expected to vote on the airports policy statement in the first half of this year and if approved, the proposals will enter an official planning process. Heathrow hopes to start building a new runway in early 2021, with completion by the end of 2025.

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