On Tuesday the Davies Commission presented its final report. This has been a strong process, supported cross party, to ask the question about whether we need airport expansion to meet economic demand and, if so, where the expansion should be.
The Davies Commission has settled the question that we need expansion of aviation capacity but the question remains as to where a third runway goes to deliver the economic benefits we need, and whether it requires a hub in the way we have traditionally seen. While the report has come out in support of a third runway at Heathrow as its main recommendation, it also talks about the credibility of Gatwick as an option. Now we need a process to move to a decision as a nation and recognise that we need to see ease of access to growing markets for our trade and business relations, for ease of imports and exports of goods and services. Inaction will also cost us billions.
A very positive output from the report has been the recognition of stronger controls around Heathrow and more effective mitigation. This includes a ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6am; no fourth runway; a legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport; a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation for homes and schools; a legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will be dependent on compliance with European Union limits; a Community Engagement Board with real influence; an independent aviation noise authority and provision of training opportunities; and apprenticeships for local people.
The irony however is that these are almost all proposals that should be happening now as part of Heathrow being a good neighbour.
In a Huffington Post piece this week, shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher described the tests we need to assess the Davies recommendation against. First, whether the outcome will meet the nation’s required increase in capacity, second whether we will meet our climate change targets, third whether local noise and environmental impacts will be adequately mitigated and, fourth whether expansion will benefit every part of the United Kingdom.
These are essential questions, and a first step in our scrutiny of the recommendations and the evidence behind them.
Far from being the end of the story, this is the beginning of a new phase. The strong arguments against expansion at Heathrow remain, and the key question is whether the mitigation plans will be enough.
That is what I will be consulting with my local community on starting today. In Feltham and Heston, many residents are strongly in favour due to the jobs and opportunities that Heathrow brings, with against based on the environmental and noise impacts. But where there is unity is that to ever see closure of Heathrow would be devastating for our local economy. That is a message we must continue to send loud and clear.
Seema Malhotra MP is member of parliament for Feltham and Heston