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Guide to Contested Evidence provides 'overwhelming case' for review of Air Transport Policy

16 September 2008

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) today (16 September) renewed its call for an independent review of the evidence underpinning aviation policy in the UK, as it published a guide to the key areas of conflict leading to weak decision making.

Contested Evidence: The case for an independent review of aviation policy summarises for the first time the differing views of the aviation industry, businesses, government departments, academics, NGOs and citizens' groups.

The SDC argues that, despite a view in some quarters that opposing groups will never agree and that the government must simply press ahead with decisions on airport expansion, a greater degree of consensus over evidence is far from unattainable.

It also argues that events since the updating of the Air Transport White paper in 2006 have radically changed the context of existing evidence. Developments including the Stern Review and other fresh climate science; the dramatic rise in oil price and the economic downturn; the work of the Climate Change Committee to set a UK carbon budget, and the renewed interest in high speed rail, all mean that a fresh look at what is in the best interests of the UK is timely. The Commission concludes that for the government to press ahead with decisions on airport expansion without achieving further consensus would not be good governance.

Major areas of dispute include:

Economic costs and benefits

• Figures on the economic costs and benefits vary widely. For example, Friends of the Earth calculate that while overseas tourists contribute £11billion to the UK economy, British tourists spend £26billion abroad, resulting in an overall loss. However, travel agent Thomson, believes tourism contributes £25billion to the UK economy, without counting the air travel industry's contribution and its employment benefits

• Oxford Economic Forecasting suggests current plans for airport expansion could be worth £13billion to the UK economy. However, the Stockholm Environment Institute says this fails to take into account the dramatic rise in oil price and its impact on air travel

Climate change impacts

• Figures relating to aviation's climate impact vary greatly. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects aviation to account for no more than 5% of global emissions by 2050. But at a UK level, the DfT's own projections indicate that it could account for 70% of the total carbon budget by the same time, if the UK targets an 80% reduction from 1990 levels, as has been recommended by many groups.

The potential role of technology

• The Advisory Council for Aeronautical Research in Europe (ACARE) set out a series of targets for improving aviation technology by 2020. However, a recent study for the German Environment Ministry concluded that efficiency improvements will not dramatically affect the performance of the German air fleet until after 2045.

Local air and noise pollution

• While debate about aircraft noise has centred on the number of people experiencing noise levels of 57 decibels or more, a government study has suggested that annoyance can be caused by noise levels well below the 57 decibel threshold.

Hugh Raven, Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said:

"Air travel offers many benefits to society, but at a cost. Decisions about new facilities for flying - particularly new runways and terminals - must consider the full range of impacts. Our review of the data shows deep disagreement about even the fundamentals. We believe there is an overwhelming case for a full review of evidence before any long-term strategic decisions are made.

"By early next year, the Government aims to have announced a Sustainable Transport Strategy, a National Policy Statement on airports, and decisions on Heathrow and other airports. Unless we take the time now to get the facts straight, these decisions will be made on shaky grounds. But if we take the time to get the data right now, and engage in the kind of proper national debate we have seen in other policy areas such as pensions and healthcare, we should be able to reach decisions in which we can all have confidence."

Contested Evidence: The case for an independent review of aviation policy

It follows an earlier report, Breaking the holding pattern: a new approach to aviation policymaking in the UK, which was published jointly with the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) in May 2008. Based on a year-long process of engagement with stakeholders, it claimed that disputes over evidence could undermine policy decisions.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1. For more information or to set up interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 or 07825 106 803, or e-mail rhian.thomas@sd-commission.org.uk

2. The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent adviser on sustainability issues. Made up of 18 Commissioners and chaired by Jonathon Porritt, it reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland

3. Contested Evidence: The case for an independent review of aviation policy and Breaking the holding pattern: a new approach to aviation policymaking in the UK are both available to download. Breaking the holding pattern was published jointly by the SDC and the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr)



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