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MPs say government’s Heathrow expansion proposals need a rejig before vote

Parliament should approve the government's case for a third runway at Heathrow – but only after concerns around air quality, noise and costs are properly addressed, a report has found.

The transport select committee's long-awaited scrutiny of the government's plans supports the case of pushing on with the development of a third runway at Heathrow, but warns the government to "redraft" its plans before they are voted on in parliament.

In findings that will bolster the government, the committee says a third runway at Heathrow will offer the "greatest strategic benefits".

"The scheme will consolidate Heathrow’s hub status, offering a greater number and variety of long-haul connections in the short-term, with a higher frequency than the other schemes considered by the Airports Commission. The scheme would deliver passenger growth that would not be realised without expansion," it says.

However, the committee, made up of a cross-party of MPs, said there were still underlying concerns in the government's plan – or airport national policy statement – surrounding air quality; surface access; regional connectivity; costs and airport charges; noise; community impacts and compensation, and resource and waste management.

Read more: Costs of Heathrow's third runway could outweigh benefits by £2.2bn

On costs, the committee says the government is suffering from "optimism bias" and that "fundamental aspects of scheme design and surface access remain undefined".

The government has previously estimated the cost of the third runway at £14.7bn – revised down from £17.6bn – although opposition groups and airlines, fearful of potential charges being offloaded to passengers, are concerned it will be much higher.

It warns that a two-year delay would result in £16.3 billion of benefits being wiped from the economic case for the third runway.

Chair of the transport committee, Lilian Greenwood, said: "At present, the draft NPS does not guarantee that passengers will be protected from the cost risks associated with the scheme. The secretary of state must set out how airport charges will be held down.

“During our inquiry, we heard how communities might be affected. Thousands of people across London could be exposed to worse levels of noise, air quality and traffic congestion.

The government and Heathrow have made efforts to mitigate these significant impacts, but safeguards on air quality, surface access, connectivity, costs and charges and noise should be strengthened. This must all be done before a final NPS is tabled for approval by both houses of parliament.”

The DfT said it would consider the committee's recommendations and that it remained "on track" to publish its final NPS in the first half of this year.

Heathrow said: "This report couldn't be clearer. Heathrow is the right answer for the UK and parliament should green light the policy for Heathrow expansion.

In order to fend off legal challenges, the report said the government should be prepared to outline that there is "no fixed limit" on the amount of compensation offered to affected communities, provided it meets the criteria set within the designated NPS.

It warns that over 300,000 people could be newly affected by noise annoyance genrerated by 700 new flights a day, which "can disturb sleep, and can affect people’s health". "Noise mitigation must also be a priority and safeguards need to be in place to protected communities from unintended consequences of expansion," the report says.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said of the report demonstrated "consensus amongst the UK's political class".

"There seems to be a strong consensus amongst the UK’s political class that building a third runway at Heathrow is an excellent idea, provided it can be done with no increase in air pollution, no increase in traffic, no increase in noise, no increase in cost and no breach of climate targets," he said.

"And so the proposal gets passed from minister to minister, government to government, committee to committee, with everyone wholeheartedly pledging their conditional support, and waiting for someone else to resolve these issues. Which is, of course, impossible."

Read more: A record 5.4 million passengers passed through Heathrow in February

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