With the Airports Commission expected to publish its final report in the coming weeks, it has been widely reported this week that the Government will not be making a swift decision on airport expansion, with any annoucement unlikely before the end of 2015. Having highlighted the need for Government to address any gaps in the Commission’s evidence and take wider policy considerations into account, we have welcomed the admission by the Government that it could not, without risk of legal challenge, simply accept the Commission’s recommendations without further analysis and scrutiny.
Business and industry groups are “dismayed” by the revelation, but this is the only common sense approach available to Government given that the Airports Commission is an independent body set up by the coalition Government in 2012 to make recommendations, but not to form Government policy.
Once the Commission reports, the Government will have to review the evidence presented. Given the Commission’s narrow terms of reference, the Government will be required to take a more strategic view on the issue. It remains AEF’s view that there are evidence gaps due to time constraints on the Commission’s work and issues that fell outside of its remit. The Government may therefore be required to undertake further work before making a decision.
A new runway at Gatwick or Heathrow would have major environmental implications, as supported by the Commission’s work to date and significant doubts remain about whether, how and when they could be mitigated effectively. As we outline in our recent briefing, until these hurdles are overcome, the Government can be in no place to take a decision on a new runway.