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15 September 2016

Decision may hinge on air quality

This article was first published in the Transport Times, September 2016.

Since the Airports Commission produced its final report last July there has been no decision from the Government, over 14 months later. Indeed, the Government has voluntarily added the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to its ‘difficult infrastructure decisions’ in-tray, risking even less time being devoted to runways.

Last December the Government did make some strides forward. From a position of opposing any runway in the south-east of England, it accepted that there was a case for a new runway, and that the new runway should either be one of two options at Heathrow or one option at Gatwick. Although not a decision, that was a lot of progress from a standing start.

After six months of looking further at noise, air quality and carbon emissions, the Brexit vote happened. Installing a new prime minister and cabinet created further delay. The new secretary of state for transport met the proposers of the three shortlisted options to hear their cases in August and a decision is now expected this month or next. As Parliament only reconvenes for a week and a half before the conference recess, in practice that means after 10 October.

What will the decision be? The new cabinet is more Heathrow-sceptic, but is perfectly capable of puffing such considerations aside. On the other hand, air quality legal tests remain a difficult hurdle for Heathrow to overcome. It could all boil down to the law, whatever the politicians may prefer.

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