Dear Sir Howard...

The New Statesman invited leading politicians and heads of think tanks, business and consumer groups to pen an open letter to the chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies. This is what they wrote.

Integrated transport, please
If I could put one challenge to the Airports Commission, it would be to use the opportunity of your interim report to stress there must be a properly integrated transport strategy for the UK – and that without this your report will be rendered ineffective. Then, if the government is determined to build a brand new railway, you could point out it should have far better links to our airports than is currently planned.
 
The solution to our future airport capacity must be settled before embarking on a new high speed railway. Such a strategy should embrace the south-east, the greatest revenue-earner and economic driver, rather than try to dilute the effect of London and its environs.
 
Yours,
Cheryl Gillan, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham
 
Bold decision making now
We can’t bury our heads any more. Aviation drives growth yet the south-east’s airports will be full in a decade and our regional network is under-utilised. 
 
Every day ministers delay these critical long-term decisions, we fall further behind. Firms in high-growth economies are not waiting for us – they’re taking their business elsewhere. 
 
Business needs bold, decisive thinking from you to tackle the pinchpoints on the ground and in the air: by 2020, huge improvements in airport transport links to boost passenger demand; by mid-2020s, a new runway near London or Birmingham; by 2030 onwards, a new south-east hub. 
 
Politicians have failed for decades to agree a way forward and outsourced the decision to you. We want cross-party agreement now to accept your final recommendations. We must not go back to square one yet again.
 
Yours,
Katja Hall, chief policy director, CBI
 
Resist one-size fits all
Aviation is a complex issue. For politicians, the temptation is to point to a single easy-to-understand solution: Heathrow expansion. But it would be the wrong solution. London is well served already, with vast spare capacity and a distributed network. 
 
Instead of pandering to the slick lobby machine that is Heathrow Ltd, which wants monopoly control and an expanded asset base, we should be learning from recent experience. 
 
Competition has improved Gatwick and if we invest in extending Crossrail to Stansted, the same will be true of that airport. The smart solution is a hub-London approach, with three main airports furiously competing with one another, and delivering value for customers. 
I hope you can resist the one-size fits all approach being pushed by vested interest and lazy thinkers, and deliver an alternative that works with, not against London’s businesses and residents.
 
Yours,
Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston
 
Publish early
None of the options on airport capacity are perfect. Your job is to pick the least-worst option. The truest act of public service though, concerns not what you say but when you say it. The commission is due to report in the summer of 2015, immediately after the next election.
 
The idea, as always, is to “take the politics out” of the decision. What this actually means is denying the public a say. Governments have tried this approach before, with tuition fees, and look where it got us. It is corrosive to public trust and no substitute for leadership. Your commission should publish before May 2015 and force the politicians’ hands.
 
Yours,
Duncan O’Leary, deputy director, Demos
 
Expand into growth markets
We have had some useful discussions about the needs of the aviation industry, and in advance of the Airport Commission’s report, I am summarising what I hope to see in the report:
• a coherent strategy that provides a blueprint for airport provision for the next 25 years
• reflecting the needs of tourism and business; 
• with sufficient capacity for expansion into growing markets, especially the far east and southern America; and
• positions the UK as a major hub for European air transport
 
Airport provision is crucial to the aviation industry, tourism and business, and economic growth is going to be increasingly dependent on international transport. The future of UK plc depends on making the right decisions about future airport provision and capacity now.
 
Yours,
Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Central Ayrshire and Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group for Aviation
 
Work with the evidence
My constituency borders Heathrow and depends on the airport for jobs and local industry. However, local residents and schools also suffer enormously from noise and air pollution, with impacts on wellbeing and learning. The local community has campaigned against a third runway because of concerns that the price the community pays will be too high, and has been in the past where particularly adequate compensation has not been forthcoming.
 
Your commission needs to provide clarity to our aviation debate and to recognise the complexity of the Heathrow situation. Local communities cannot just keep absorbing the impact, but at the same time we reject Boris Johnson’s proposals that would see the end of Heathrow and a devastation of the west London economy. Over 110,000 west London jobs depend on Heathrow, and my constituents would be hit particularly hard for generations if the airport was to move.
 
Your commission needs to work with the evidence, and separate fact from fiction. We need clear and unequivocal assessments about whether expansion is needed, if so is the UK right to have a hub and spoke model or point-to-point, and could a split hub work with improved infrastructure between sites. The quality of life of the local community must be a 
consideration in your options and your recommendations.
 
Yours,
Seema Malhotra Labour MP for Feltham and Heston
 
Look north
There is constant reference in the media to “south-east airport capacity problems” but your commission has been tasked by government to “maintain a UK-wide perspective, taking appropriate account of the national, regional and local implications of any proposals” you may bring forward.
 
While it is clear that air capacity problems are most acute in London and the south-east, we believe that we need a national solution to the problem. Evidence gathered by the Northern Economic Futures Commission last year demonstrates that Manchester airport holds significant potential to become the nation’s second international hub. Supported by HS2 and with the added benefit of driving 
northern economic growth we urge you to explore this as an exciting and viable 
option that looks beyond the metropolitan myopia.
 
Yours,
Ed Cox, director, IPPR North
 
Yes to Heathrow
For Britain to remain a first-rate, competitive economy in the twenty-first century, we need a world-class transport system. Adequate aviation capacity is key to this – without it we will not be able to operate new connections with cities in China and other emerging economies.
In the short to medium term, I favour a third runway at Heathrow – it can be funded entirely by private investment and will be completed relatively quickly compared to other proposed options.
 
Nevertheless, what is clear is that continued uncertainty is the worst possible option for the UK, in terms of business opportunities lost and for the local communities who must continue to wait to learn which project will get the go-ahead.
 
Yours,
Tim Yeo, Conservative MP for South Suffolk
 
No to Heathrow
After experiencing thirty years of broken promises and guile from the advocates of Heathrow expansion, I regrettably conclude that only greed and laziness drives them on in the face of overwhelming arguments on congestion, noise, pollution, safety and the quality of life of my constituents. 
 
The two million folk of west London are not Nimbys. Most are prepared to put up with one of the world’s busiest airports on their doorstep because of the contribution it makes to the regional and national economy. Expansion, if and when it comes, needs to recognise the unique nature of London and the south-east which cannot be served by a single airport and is indeed already served by five airports, some with substantial existing capacity. 
 
Improved video technology, HS2, bigger and quieter planes will help. New runways at Stansted, Gatwick and Luton all cause less human misery. Let’s not go for the quick and dirty solution for once. NO to Heathrow expansion. 
 
Yours,
Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, shadow justice minister
 
Consider social impacts
Any airport expansion inevitably carries a massive environmental footprint – spewing millions of tonnes of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Importantly, airport growth is also already bringing misery to tens of thousands of residents living in communities close to airports, both because of excessive noise pollution (often through the night) and through shocking damage to air quality.
 
A dispassionate evidence-based review of the arguments for and against the expansion of Britain’s airports can only be welcome but the environmental and social impacts of any new runway capacity must not be brushed under the carpet.
 
Given that the formal timetable for your Commission sets aside the whole of next year for detailed consideration of the different options for new capacity, we are concerned that the commission’s conclusion on the question of whether new runway capacity is needed at all appears to have been reached before your assessment has even begun.
 
Yours,
John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace
 
Case not made
The case for expanding aviation capacity, despite industry pressure, is far from clear. Close analysis of the evidence suggests runway expansion could cost us more in social, environmental and economic terms than it delivers in return.
 
Our study of the previous Heathrow expansion plan re-ran the Department for Transport’s own model, adding in some of the social impacts that had been excluded by the department. The result showed a net cost to Britain of £5.5bn.
 
Our research highlighted how focusing on particular economic interests risks creating a worrying false economy for society. We hope the Airports Commission fully recognises the wide-ranging economic, social and environmental impacts of aviation expansion and includes these elements in their future analyses.
 
Yours,
David Theiss, researcher, nef
 
Time to be daring
It’s no wonder people despise politicians.  For decades, governments have given in to short-term fears and refused to face the truth about airports. The UK will only be able to take advantage of expanding world markets – and keep London’s place as the pre-eminent financial centre of the world – if we have a world-class hub airport.
 
Current restraint is already holding the economy back – to the tune of some £14bn a year. Heathrow is at capacity and its infrastructure is overloaded. We need a hub airport to the east of London - either at Stansted or in the Thames Estuary. 
 
If we don’t start planning such a daring project now, future generations will be right to despise us for our lack of courage!
 
Yours,
Eleanor Laing, Conservative MP for Epping Forest
 
Consider doing nothing
Former aviation minister Chris Mullin has said of his term in office “I learned two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given in to them.”
 
The current government clearly anticipates that your report in 2015 will include options for significant new airport infrastructure, and various proposals for new runways have been published this week. Some present air quality challenges. Many present noise issues. And all, unless accompanied by the closure of existing runways, will be incompatible with our national CO2 reduction commitment enshrined in the Climate Change Act.
 
The option of “no new runways” should therefore be on your shortlist for detailed consideration next year.
 
Yours,
Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director, Aviation Environment Federation
 
Thames is for ships, not planes 
Can we scotch once and for all the proposal for a hub airport in the Thames Estuary? The potential impact on the shipping channels is significant and could cost jobs. Tilbury docks supports upwards of ten thousand jobs, yet the Foster plan would directly impact access to the port as well as other port facilities throughout Thurrock. Boris Johnson may think that the docks have left London, but they have just moved downstream to Thurrock. The Port of London is still very active port and it will become even busier when London Gateway is open for business.
 
The fact is we already have a hub airport at Heathrow. The River Thames is for ships not planes.
 
Yours,
Jackie Doyle-Price, Conservative MP for Thurrock
 
Reduce noise
The ITC's recent report [theitc.org.uk/ docs/98.pdf] concludes the key need is better connectivity with global destinations. This means the UK needs to host a top-tier hub because the extra throughput makes frequent, direct, flights to more destinations viable. Expanding other airports helps but is not a substitute. 
 
We propose criteria for site selection and highlight critical questions. For Heathrow a key test is reducing noise nuisance for Londoners. Any alternative site would mean closing Heathrow. Costs must be affordable for airlines and passengers - or we risk pricing them abroad, losing the very connectivity we need. 
 
Yours,
Stephen Hickey, Chairman, ITC Aviation working group, Independent Transport Commission
 
No to unlimited growth
The committee on climate change has warned that if the UK is to meet its target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, aviation growth should be limited to around 370 million passengers per annum. This is 68 per cent more than last year, allowing a generous level of growth compared to other sectors, and so you should resist pressure from the aviation lobby to allow unlimited growth. 
 
The UK has more than enough runway capacity to cater for 370 million passengers per annum. In fact we have more runway capacity than Germany, France, Spain or Italy. We even have more runway capacity than Japan - also an island trading nation - which has twice our population and twice our GDP.
 
Yours,
Susan Pearson, communications director, AirportWatch
 
No choice at all
For those who appreciate the English countryside, the choice of a “constellation” of large airports around London or a super-hub is no choice at all. Your proposed measure of airport efficiency – the number of households disturbed per flight – fails to value rural tranquillity, an increasingly scarce joy in an ever more crowded island.
 
There’s increasing recognition of the benefits to local public transport from replacing competition between rail and bus with a planned, integrated network. Yet for longer distance travel, including aviation, the invisible hand of the market still seems to reign. In practice the sclerotic system of grandfather rights over landing slots means busy airports are forced to serve yesterday’s travel markets. 
The growth of Europe’s high speed rail network offers a chance to reallocate slots from shorter haul destinations. No new runway capacity is needed for the foreseeable future. 
 
Yours,
Ralph Smyth, senior transport campaigner, CPRE
 
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the transport select committee
 
Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Photograph: Getty
Getty
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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.