Once again the House sits to consider airport expansion in the south-east, a matter which has been kicked into the long grass by successive governments of all colours for close to half a century. As you might expect of a matter of such national importance, I have been contacted by many constituents and lobbies on both sides of the debate.
I have long called for airport capacity to be increased in some form for many years, be that the previously mooted airport hub in the Thames Estuary, or expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow – all of which have been considered and reviewed in recent years by the Airports Commission. Whilst I was initially most supportive of a new airport hub in the Thames Estuary, I firmly believe it is now time for a decision to be taken and, as such, am supportive of the Government’s proposals to expand Heathrow.
I do appreciate the affect that expansion will have on the constituency in terms of night time noise, particularly in Pimlico and Victoria. Indeed, as a local resident under the flight path myself, I am all too aware of the impact an increase in flights will have. However, in the same manner in which I was supportive of Crossrail, this is an infrastructure project with wider national significance.
Ever since I was first elected in 2001, I have heard the clamour from the City and businesses across the constituency grow ever louder for an increase in airport capacity, not to mention similar sentiments expressed by those based overseas looking to do more in the UK but who have found themselves hamstrung by our current lack of capacity. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to attract and sustain businesses from across the globe as we move forward into a post-Brexit world. A new runway is estimated to bring economic benefits worth up to £74 billion, together with the creation of thousands of job and apprenticeship opportunities.
Of course, concerns remain about what expansion will mean for air quality and the environmental consequences of the construction and operation of a new runway. I am fully aware of these well-founded anxieties. As the father of two young children, I have long been concerned about the danger of poor air quality to their health and that of future generations to come, and it would be naive to think that the expansion of Heathrow does not raise serious questions.
However, my concerns on this front are assuaged somewhat by commitments from Government and Heathrow to ensuring that expansion is compliant with air quality and noise reduction targets. It is my understanding that funding in the region of £700 million will be earmarked for environmental considerations and that a consultation on the creation of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone for Heathrow will also take place. Furthermore, the night time flight ban will remain in effect in addition to Heathrow looking to redesign flight paths to inconvenience and disturb fewer people than at present. Nonetheless, I will continue to lobby to improve air quality and for advanced technology to reduce aircraft noise.
I am sorry if my views on this issue come as a disappointment, as I am aware of the passions this subject raises. However, three years on from the delivery of the Davies review and its conclusion that the construction of a new north-east runway at Heathrow offered the greatest strategic and economic benefits, I am strongly of the view that there has been enough delay and I support the Government in taking these steps to further open up the UK to the world.