The opportunity to expand airport capacity in south east England provided by the Airports Commission has been lost, a committee of MPs has said.
In a new report, the cross-party Transport Select Committee has criticised ministers for delaying their decision on the Commission’s findings, which backed Heathrow as the location for a new runway.
The report concluded that 'the opportunity provided by the detailed evidence-based work of the Airports Commission has been lost' and that transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin ‘needs now to have the courage to take a difficult, and for some people unpopular, decision’.
Jets at London's Heathrow Airport
MPs urged Mr McLoughlin to set out a timetable for expansion and make clear what still needs to be done.
The Committee said that ‘arguments for and against expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century'. It continued to back Heathrow as the location for a new runway, ‘with the package of accompanying measures recommended by the Airports Commission’.
Committee chair 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.
'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.'
MPs said they accepted that measures to mitigate environmental impacts need ‘careful consideration’ and further work, but did not accept that this needed to be done before a decision is taken.
Appearing before the committee in February, the transport secretary said he ‘would like to see a decision by the time the House rises for the summer,’ but did not commit to this.
Last month Transport for London (TfL) claimed that the Commission had significantly underestimated the costs of improving surface transport access.
Responding to this claim a Heathrow spokesperson said: ‘TfL’s estimated costs were revealed over five months ago at the Environmental Audit Committee. They come in well above the figure the Airports Commission itself proposed, following a three year, £20m independent study into this issue.'