The decision followed a public consultation which garnered intense and widespread opposition. Also announced was a massive programme “of up to £6 billion” of ‘hard shoulder running’ on motorways during busy periods to expand capacity, covering the most congested parts of the network, especially on routes close to London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. There will also be £250 million in funding to promote low carbon road vehicles.
But today’s House of Commons statement came down against proposals for ‘mixed mode’ operations at Heathrow – allowing landings and takeoffs from the same runway. This would have allowed a significant increase in flights using the existing two runways at the world’s busiest but heavily congested international airport.
Rejecting mixed mode operations increases pressure on Heathrow’s owner BAA to press on with expanding capacity by building the new runway and terminal. Mr Hoon told Parliament he expected BAA to apply for planning permission in the next few years, so that take offs from the new runway could start “early in the period between 2015 and 2020”.
Mr Hoon said he was setting up a new company to consider the case for a new high speed rail line between Birmingham and central London. He saw “a strong case” for this new line approaching the capital via a new railway station at Heathrow. He wants a report on options by the year’s end. but there is no guarantee when or if this line will be built or that it will serve Heathrow.
He also promised that increased flights from the airport above the current cap would not be allowed until noise and air quality conditions were met. Nitrogen dioxide levels in some places near Heathrow exceed the EU legal limit which comes into force in 2010. Mr Hoon said the UK could seek a derogation until 2015.
Mr Hoon said any increase in Heathrow flights would be subject to a new “green slot” principle, to incentiveise the use “of the most modern aircraft, with further benefits for air quality and noise – and indeed carbon dioxide emissions”. Britain would set a target for total aviation greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 to be no higher than in 2005.
The UK’s major environmental groups pledged to continue their campaigning against Heathrow expansion. There may well be a legal challenge to Mr Hoon’s decision in the offing.