The government could be in line for a lengthy legal battle with Transport for London (TfL) over the non-disclosure of information about future traffic levels for the Heathrow expansion, a senior director at the transport body has warned.
Speaking to New Civil Engineer, TfL director of city planning Alex Williams said he had not seen evidence from the the Department for Transport (DfT) or Heathrow to support the airport’s claim that the public transport mode share of 50% by 2030 would be achieved, or how airport traffic will be kept at current levels.
“Our analysis of the surface access to the airport, and expanded airport, is all in the public domain. It’s completely transparent,” said Williams.
“If no-one’s prepared to share information or substantiate their case about how you can deliver those mode share targets…then you’re just heading straight for a court hearing, because we’re at loggerheads and no-one’s prepared to share that information or have that technical discussion about the merits of the case.”
Roughly 40% of trips to Heathrow are currently made by public transport. As a requirement for expansion, public transport journeys must hit 50% by 2030. Heathrow has also pledged there will be no extra traffic on the roads as a result of expansion.
To achieve that, TfL believes the public transport mode share has to reach around 69%.
Williams added that the the government’s National Policy Statement (NPS) on Heathrow must make clear that the Southern and Western Rail Access schemes rail schemes are “essential” to the airport’s expansion.
“To pretend they’re not [essential] is not credible in my view,” he said. “There is no evidence that we have seen that can indicate you can deliver those mode share targets without those products being in place.”
MPs will vote on Heathrow expansion in the first half of 2018. If it is approved by parliament and TfL is not satisfied with the proposed surface access provision, it could join a legal challenge against expansion, with several London boroughs.
To satisfy TfL, the NPS would have to commit to Southern and Western Rail Access schemes. Emission-based charging regimes, such as a low emission zone around the airport, would also have to be given greater weight in the NPS.
A Heathrow Airport Ltd spokesperson said: ”As part of our current ongoing consultation we have detailed our surface access strategy and are seeking feedback on how best to implement different initiatives to achieve our overall goal that by 2030 at least 50% of journeys will be by sustainable public transport, up from approximately 40% today.
”This could be done by introducing things like a congestion charge at the airport, investing in improved bus and rail connections like the Western and Southern Rail Access, and supporting the increase of frequency and operating hours of new Elizabeth line services.”
Last week transport secretary Chris Grayling said that commitment to Western Rail Access is more likely to be included in planning permission for the scheme than the NPS, although he clarified that construction is due to start during Network Rail’s control period 6 (CP6), which begins next year, and finish before the runway opens.
No commitments have been made for the Southern Rail Access scheme, but the government will be holding talks with private investors over the next few months.
Williams added: “We just need to get on with it and come up with a defined scheme and make sure it’s delivered in a timely fashion, and that’s not happening at the moment because Heathrow and the DfT think it is desirable and not essential. Our view is that it is essential.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Heathrow Northwest Runway will help secure the UK’s status as a global aviation hub – delivering greater passenger benefits earlier than other options.
“A Southern Rail Link to Heathrow forms part of the government’s long term vision for the railway. The transport secretary was clear in his evidence to the transport select committee that he expects Western Rail Access to begin construction over the next five year investment period from 2019, and to conclude before the opening of the runway.
“We are analysing consultation responses and will consider any evidence submitted by TfL.”