17 Dec 2013 – The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin gave an oral response to the Airports Commission Interim Report.

‘In September last year Sir Howard Davies agreed to chair an independent Airports Commission. The Commission was asked to examine how the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub can be maintained. This morning it published its interim report. I have deposited copies in the Library and the report is available on the Airports Commission’s website.

I know this is an issue central not only to our nation’s economic future but also to those who use airports, work in airports or are affected by the impact of airports. The UK is a leader in aviation, with the third largest aviation network in the world. The sector contributes £18 billion per year to our economy and employs around 220,000 workers directly and many more indirectly. We need airports that put our country at the front of global competition and allow people to get to where they want to go. But we also want to see airports which are quieter and can meet our carbon commitments. Today’s report is an important step towards both goals.

Many members of this House and their constituents hold strong views about the right outcome and it is right that we respect this.

I will be writing to invite members to a briefing session early in the new year where Sir Howard will explain the contents of the Commission’s report in more detail. I would like to thank Sir Howard and his fellow commissioners. Sir John Armitt, Prof Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox, Dame Julia King and Geoff Muirhead (who stood down in September) for the care they have taken. Their interim report is a detailed and professional piece of work, based on careful research. It merits the fullest consideration.

It may be helpful if I provide a brief overview of the key issues they have addressed. First, the interim report provides the Commission’s advice on the level of future airport capacity that this country will require. This is based on new evidence about a rapidly changing industry. The Commission has also consulted with a range of people and organisations. As a result, the Commission offers a clear recommendation that there is a need for new runway capacity in the medium term to support continued competitiveness and prosperity. We will of course be looking carefully at this recommendation and how best we can take decisions that are in the long-term economic interest of the country while respecting the environment and quality of life.

Sir Howard is clear in his report that there is no crisis of capacity now. He does however conclude that we will need one additional runway in the south-east by 2030 and a second in all likelihood by 2050. The Commission is also clear that these recommendations can be consistent with the UK’s climate change obligations.

Second, the Commission has announced which long term options it intends to take forward in the second phase of its work. These options are: Gatwick Airport. The Commission will consider a new runway spaced sufficiently south of the existing runway to permit fully independent operation. Heathrow Airport. The Commission will consider: First, a new full-length runway the north west of the existing airport, as proposed by Heathrow Airport Ltd. This would be spaced sufficiently to permit fully independent operation. Second, an extension of the existing northern runway to the west, as proposed by Heathrow Hub Ltd. This would allow it to be operated as two separate runways: one for departures and one for arrivals.

Options for the construction of a new airport in the Thames Estuary have not been shortlisted by the Commission at this stage. However, the Commission intends to carry out further analysis of the feasibility and impacts of a new airport on the Isle of Grain. It aims to reach a decision in the second half of 2014 as to whether this constitutes a credible option for further development and detailed study. If this option is then added to the shortlist, it will be subject to a process of appraisal and consultation similar to that proposed for other short-listed options.

In Phase Two of its work, the Commission will undertake detailed analysis and consultation on each of these locations, in partnership with promoters. The Commission will of course work with local communities and listen to their views. . Third, the Commission is also recommending action intended to make better use of our existing aviation infrastructure, in particular over the next five years.

I welcome this fresh thinking – much of which is aimed at industry as much as government – about how we can make improvements to our already strong aviation sector.

The Commission has produced some interesting ideas including:

  • better use of airspace to improve resilience at London Airports
  • trials at Heathrow Airport to smooth the early morning arrival schedule to minimise stacking and delays and to provide more predictable respite for local communities
  • an Independent Aviation Noise Authority to improve decision making on noise issues.

These are important recommendations which merit a response in advance of decisions on longer term capacity. The government will consider the short-term recommendations in detail and respond to them by the spring of next year.

Finally, the Commission proposes improvements to surface access to airports. The government set out its initial response to these recommendations in the National Infrastructure Plan, published earlier this month.

I would also like to set out how we intend to address the concerns of people who live around sites subject to further consideration by the Commission. Now that the Commission’s report has been published, we will be working closely with promoters to consider the form and scale of any appropriate relief which might be put into place. We will set out our thinking on this important issue in our response to the interim report.

I know that colleagues on all sides of this House will have views on the content of the Commission’s interim report, and in particular on the choices which have been made in shortlisting options. My principal concern as Secretary of State for Transport is to protect the integrity and independence of the Commission’s process through to the final report, which we expect to be delivered in summer 2015.

So the government will not be commenting either today (17 December 2013) or in responding to the interim report, on the respective merits of the options which have and have not been shortlisted. Given the vital importance of aviation to our nation, I would urge colleagues to engage positively with the work of the Commission, as it moves into the next, equally important, phase of its work. The variety of views in this House and beyond about the right way forward are proof that an independent Commission, rather than ill-thought out action are the right way forward. The Airports Commission process offers us the best chance we have to get this decision right.’