THE BLOG

Airport Commission: Labour Will Be Ready to Back the Decision That Is in the Best Long-Term Interests of the Country

30/06/2015 12:56 BST | Updated 30/06/2016 10:59 BST

This week, Sir Howard Davies will publish his final recommendation on aviation expansion. This will bring to an end an almost three-year process of the Airports Commission team objectively combing through the mass of data and evidence. But the issue of how we manage our aviation is a saga going back more than three years.

It is widely acknowledged that a decision on aviation expansion should have been taken a long time ago - a failure of consecutive governments, including Labour ones. But if the Airports Commission's findings can show that a number of key tests can be met, we will have an opportunity, and an obligation, to ensure that a decision is finally taken.

Aviation plays a massive role in our economy. The sector directly employs over 220,000 people, produces over £50billion pounds of GDP and pays the Exchequer over eight billion pounds every year in tax revenues.

But the fact is that the ongoing growth of our aviation sector is now at risk. Heathrow has been full for 10 years, while Gatwick is already full at peak times and is set to reach capacity by 2020.

The evidence is clear. More airport capacity is vital to our economic success and we need action if we are to maintain our status as Europe's most important aviation hub. Many other countries in Europe, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands are all investing heavily in their airports. We need to do the same.

Just in the last two weeks, a report by the Independent Transport Commission revealed that if a decision is not taken, we would face significant loss in productivity and inward investment, with the UK economy potentially losing up to £214billion over the next 60 years.

Of course, Sir Howard Davies will publish a substantial piece of work and we will need time to analyse and scrutinise its findings.

But Labour will be clear: if we find that the main recommendation in the final report meets a number of conditions that we have set, we will take a swift decision to back Sir Howard's recommendations.

The tests that we have set include:

First, that robust and convincing evidence is provided that the required increased aviation capacity will be delivered with Sir Howard Davies' recommendation.

Second, that the recommended expansion in capacity can go hand-in-hand with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation and allow us to meet our legal climate change obligations. This is absolutely crucial. It was a Labour Government that established the Committee on Climate Change and we have always said that aviation expansion must be delivered within our carbon reduction goals and climate change obligations.

Third, that local noise and environmental impacts have been adequately considered and will be managed and minimised. We must recognise that airports are a significant concern to local communities. Any decision on expansion must take into account the impact upon local communities in terms of noise, access and air quality.

And fourth, that the benefits of expansion will be felt in every corner of the country, not just the South East of England, and that regional airports will be supported too. This cannot just be yet another major transport investment just for London.

If these conditions are met, there can be no excuse for the Government to kick the issue into the long-grass yet again. The only reason to do so would be political.

One of the reasons why the previous Labour government did not act quickly enough on aviation expansion was the political management challengers it posed. We know that this time too, this is not an easy issue. But the current Conservative Government's own difficulties with their own party must not influence the Government's approach. We cannot again let politics get in the way of good business - there are too many jobs at stake.

Where and how we choose to expand the country's aviation capacity is likely to be the biggest decision for UK PLC this decade. Labour will be ready to back the decision that is in the best long-term interests of the country - but we really do not have a moment to lose.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport