New safeguards needed before Heathrow approval

New safeguards needed before Heathrow approval

The transport select committee has called for tougher measures to protect local communities from noise and pollution before plans to expand Heathrow Airport are approved.

Parliament should approve the proposed Airports National Policy Statement, officials said, but only after government addresses the concerns set out in its report.

A key demand would see night flights banned for seven hours.

There is currently no ban on overnight flights.

Heathrow does, though, have restrictions on the number of take-offs and landings it is allowed between 23:30 and 06:00.

This, and additional safeguards, are needed to ensure that the interests of passengers are protected, and the adverse environmental, social and health impacts on affected communities are addressed, the report argues.

Concerns centre on air quality for local residents, surface access, regional connectivity, and noise.

Sections of the draft dealing with these matters should be revised before a final NPS is tabled for approval by parliament, officials said.

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A decision by parliament to approve the Airports NPS would allow detailed planning work for a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport to begin.

Chair of the transport committee, Lilian Greenwood, said: “The committee’s recommendations improve the NPS and reduce the chance of a successful legal challenge.

“The north-west runway scheme, as set out in the draft NPS, is the highest cost expansion option and one of the largest privately financed infrastructure projects anywhere in the world.

“At present, the draft NPS does not guarantee that passengers will be protected from the cost risks associated with the scheme.

“The secretary of state must set out how airport charges will be held down.”

Greenwood added: “During our inquiry, we heard how communities might be affected.

“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 committee accepted there was a case for additional runway capacity, particularly hub capacity and that expansion at Heathrow could deliver the government’s strategic objectives for greater connectivity for passengers and freight.

However, more work was also needed to reduce the schemes costs and eventual airport charges, officials said, a move welcomed by British Airways-owner International Airlines Group.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “Heathrow is the world’s most expensive hub airport and its current costs proposal is exorbitant and unacceptably vague.

“The transport select committee’s conclusion that airport charges must be kept at today’s levels, as this is in customers’ interests, is very welcome.

“It’s critical, as recommended, that the National Policy Statement includes a detailed cost breakdown with the condition that airport charges be held flat in real terms, before parliament votes on it.

“Also, we endorse that the Civil Aviation Authority should test whether the scheme is affordable before it can proceed.”

Walsh added: “We share the committee’s concerns about the lack of detail on how the new runway will bridge the M25, one of Europe’s busiest motorways, and the fact that no costs have been factored in for this.

“Finally, we’re pleased that the committee has acknowledged that domestic routes are based on airlines’ commercial considerations.

“It notes that they’ve declined in recent years and that this won’t change if airport charges increase.”

The full report can be seen here.