MPs today called for a clear timetable to be set for airport expansion while backing a third runway at Heathrow.
A Transport Committee report published today (Wednesday) says the opportunity to end “decades of political dithering” on airport expansion has been squandered.
It wants transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin to set out a clear timetable for expansion and agree a location for an extra runway.
In a move criticised by Gatwick, the committee supports a third runway at Heathrow, together with a package of accompanying measures recommended by the Airports Commission last summer.
The government delayed a decision on an additional runway for the southeast in December, saying it would give its final say this summer.
McLoughlin said at the time that the case for expansion was “clear” but further work was needed before a decision could be taken on location. The government indicated that the work should “conclude over the summer” so that the timetable for delivering additional capacity by 2030 could be met.
Today’s report into airport expansion in the southeast concludes that arguments for and against expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century.
The committee’s report says: “The absence of a decision on location creates uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the lack of clarity the government has created about exactly when a decision will be taken.”
Committee chairman, Labour MP Louise Ellman, said: “The government must make up its mind. The decision on location is not the end of the process, it is the start of one.
“Real progress cannot begin until the location is declared. Work on environmental issues can run in parallel with other pre-construction work.”
She added: “Across the world, cities are collectively planning to build more than 50 new runways with capacity to serve one billion additional passenger journeys by 2036.
“The growth of large hubs in the Middle and Far East and North America threatens our position as a hub of international aviation. The UK’s connectivity with the world’s emerging markets is a major concern.
“The months ticking by constitute time wasted for the UK’s economic prosperity. UK PLC needs to know that a decision will be taken. Doing nothing means the UK continues to lose out.”
A Gatwick spokesman said: “The Transport Committee’s astonishing statement that the arguments ‘for and against airport expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century’ ignores the significant change within the aviation industry following the break-up of the BAA monopoly in 2009 and the worsening of air quality in the UK which has repeatedly halted Heathrow’s plans in the past.
“In one key respect, however, the committee is right to say that nothing has changed – Heathrow is still undeliverable. Fortunately, there is now a credible alternative at Gatwick that can mean Britain finally gets on with it.
“The opportunity to end decades of delay and false starts can only be achieved by giving the green light for Gatwick expansion. Gatwick is the only scheme which can actually deliver the economic benefits airport expansion would bring without the dramatic and unacceptable impacts on noise and air quality.”
The government has three options to consider – a third runway at Heathrow, extending an existing runway at the west London hub or a second runway at Gatwick.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are undertaking more work on environmental impacts so we can develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people. We anticipate that this work will conclude by the summer.”
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