Heathrow Airport, by making the area accessible for multinational companies seeking a UK base, is a major driver of economic growth in the Thames Valley. It is this economic growth which drives demand for extra housing in the Borough and which encourages people to move here.
Air travel is also a major contributor towards carbon emissions and climate change.
Wokingham Borough Council currently supports the expansion of Heathrow Airport by the addition of a third runway. WBC is therefore supporting a policy which will lead to increased demand for housing and which will increase carbon emissions.
There are two motions on this agenda, which imply WBC is opposed to increased housing demand and is committed to reducing carbon emissions.
Will the Leader commit to ensuring that WBC's policy will change to opposing the Third Runway at Heathrow and make a submission to the Heathrow Consultation to this effect?
We have to accept that we want to continue to make Wokingham Borough attractive to both businesses and residents and a consequence of that is that people will want to come here and will need somewhere to live. Accessibility to Heathrow is known to be a key factor in our healthy economy and quality of life, and this in turn attracts people here.
We have, in the past, supported the Heathrow expansion due to the economic advantages it will bring. However it is important that the operation of Heathrow both as it is now or in any expanded form, addresses the impact on the environment and its contribution to climate change.
We continue to monitor the situation with regard to the expansion and any negative consequences there might be for the Borough, particularly with regard to our ambitious target of making Wokingham Borough carbon neutral by 2030.
The Heathrow consultation suite of documents is very large and we are continuing to digest their contents. The report entitled Environmentally Managed Growth explains how Heathrow intends to expand without negatively impacting on the environment and specifically details surface access (traffic), air quality, aircraft noise and carbon. These relate mainly to the airport and its more immediate surroundings. With respect to Carbon in particular, the airport and airlines will be incentivised to reduce emissions and invest in new technology and climate change is a major concern across the aviation industry. However, the Airports Commission’s initial analysis has concluded that a new runway is deliverable within the UK’s carbon obligations.
We remain concerned about growth in traffic levels and welcome some of the measures Heathrow have proposed such as committing to at least 50% public transport mode share by 2030. We need to ensure that this is possible for people travelling from Wokingham Borough, so the Western Rail Link is an essential piece of infrastructure which we need to ensure is in place regardless of whether the expansion goes ahead. We also need to continue to manage investment in transport infrastructure and the location of development to ensure that we make alternatives to private car use a viable option for many so that the impact of any growth is lessened.
In summary, we recognise that the proposed Heathrow expansion could potentially bring both positive and negative consequences to the region and the Borough. We have a short time to investigate what this will mean for Wokingham before responding to the consultation and then make a decision on whether there should be a shift in our position on the expansion proposals.