A cross-party group of MPs has urged the government to improve public transport links to airports in the south-east.
The MPs, including Dame Tessa Jowell, Margaret Hodge, Zac Goldsmith and Julian Huppert, identify excessive car journeys and the consequent pollution as one of the biggest barriers to the future sustainability of airports.
Other signatories include the former Tory ministers Tim Yeo and Caroline Spelman, as well as the Green party London assembly member Darren Johnson, and John Stewart, a campaigner against Heathrow expansion. Johnson stressed that his endorsement of the letter did not imply conditional support for airport expansion.
The government-appointed Davies commission is due to report after the election on how best to expand airport capacity in the south-east. It has shortlisted three options: a third runway at Heathrow, lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow, or a second runway at Gatwick.
The petition by the cross-party group says: “Airports have become an integral part of modern life, however their environmental impacts should be effectively managed and over time brought down.”
It says airports have a responsibility to reduce pollution, but it is also necessary for the government to guarantee better-quality rail access to help cut emissions.
“For our major airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – the government must commit to a step-change improvement in rail access,” the MPs say.
“This change will be brought about at Heathrow by new rail access from the west, by southern rail access longer term, and by efficient interaction with HS2; at Gatwick by material improvements to the Gatwick Express with the new Thameslink franchise; and at Stansted with new rail infrastructure to secure a world-class Stansted Express.”
This month delegates at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference defied the party leadership by voting against any net expansion of airport capacity in the south-east.
At the Labour party conference last month, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said: “We must resolve to finally make a decision on airport capacity in London and the south-east – expanding capacity while taking into account the environmental impact. No more kicking into the long grass, but taking the right decisions for Britain’s long-term future.”
More than 1,000 people attended a meeting this week to protest over changes to flight paths at Heathrow airport.
Let Britain Fly SUSTAINABLE AIRPORTS SUMMIT:
OVERCOMING THE SURFACE ACCESS, AIR QUALITY AND CO2 CHALLENGES
A conference by “Let Britain Fly” and “Runways UK” in London on 15th October (see agenda) focused partly on the desirability of increasing the proportion of passengers arriving at airports by public transport – rather than cars. Everyone agrees this would be a good plan. However, air passengers are acknowledged to be “challenging” for public transport, as they tend to have luggage, so take up more space than non-airport travellers.
There is also an existing problem of many train services already being crowded and approaching capacity, for much of the day. The line to Gatwick is a case in point. While the airports claim their air passengers would only add some 10% more people at peak morning rush hour, this time is already often at capacity with standing room only.
It was stated that for many rail services in the crowded south east, there is no longer just a morning and an evening peak, but services are crowded for longer periods extending across the day.
While airport passengers may get the benefit of better rail services, the cost of this is not paid by the airports. Better transport links to airports are likely to be paid for by the taxpayer.
The “summit” was interesting, but not surprisingly, contained a number of very waffly and non-specific speeches, of each speaker pushing a predictable line. The conclusion that many would draw from the day was that there really are no workable, or persuasive, plans for either Heathrow or Gatwick to get a new runway, and meet environmental targets.
Many supportive speeches were made, but all lacking any real substantive detail on how a new runway could be seen to be environmentally “sustainable.” Fine hopes. Fine words. Nothing of real substance.