A New Runway at Heathrow – Will it Ever Happen?

Written by Kate Goldstone

Imagine this: you’re sitting in your garden with planes roaring overhead. Indoors you can clearly hear aircraft passing over your home, not so far above it. And you’re woken up by more of the same as the first flights of the day take off from Heathrow’s new third runway.

heathrow third runway

Heathrow – No Third Runway Protest

The big story airport story over the past week has been the latest progress on airport expansion. It appears Heathrow is the favoured option. Heathrow airport will soon be staring to put in place plans to build its third runway, as recommended by the Airports Commission. And it means thousands of ordinary people are getting ready to defend their towns and villages against the proposed encroachment.

We live in interesting times… so what are the media, politicians and locals saying?

Heathrow expansion latest – what people are saying

The Telegraph’s take on the situation reveals some detail:

“Heathrow will today start laying the groundwork to build a third runway, even though the Government is yet to give the green light to the controversial £17.6bn infrastructure project.

John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of the West London hub, will announce that the airport will immediately begin drawing up a strategy to secure the materials and services it will need from contractors.

Heathrow, which wants to start building in 2020, will launch a so-called “procurement forum” of representatives across a variety of industries to help it formulate its plans, as it moves into what it describes as the “delivery phase” of its politically contentious expansion.

The hub is pressing ahead with plans to grow just days after the Government-appointed Airports Commission concluded that a third runway, to the northwest of Heathrow’s current northern landing strip, is the “best answer” to the country’s airports capacity crisis, as long as it is accompanied by strict measures on air pollution and noise.”

Air pollution and noise? That’s an interesting one. How about climate change, something they don’t mention? As ETA, the ‘green’ insurance provider, says:

“Just one return flight from London to New York produces a greater carbon footprint than a whole year’s personal allowance needed to keep the climate safe.

Our carbon footprint is the estimated amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) given out as we travel, buy food, heat our homes and enjoy our usual lifestyles.

The average personal footprint in Britain is 9.5t. To get down to a fair share of the world’s total; this must be cut by 87%, leaving 1.2t. On every flight to New York and back, each traveller emits about 1.2t of CO2. If we fly, air travel overshadows all our other impacts.”

They go on to say, “To keep the climate safe we need drastic cuts in air travel. Efficiency savings such as more direct flights shave off small fractions but are dwarfed by planned growth.” Planned growth? That sounds a lot like Heathrow.

What about greener aircraft?

Are greener, low-emissions aircraft anywhere near becoming a a reality? As the move-forward website says:

“Aviation is a global industry necessitating global solutions. We believe that its environmental performance can only be improved if the various players – including airlines, government agencies, air traffic management (ATM) organisations and engine manufacturers – work together in order to develop and implement the best and most efficient, solutions worldwide.

The right combination of technology and talent – along with the right investment, support and cooperation – can make this happen.

The industry has also set up sustainable roadmaps with clear targets. Carbon neutral growth by 2020 for example – or on a further horizon the Flightpath “2050”, the European Aviation Vision – is an aspirational roadmap for the industry with a significant commitment to cutting emissions (CO2 by 75%, NOx by 90% and noise by 65%).

A combination of public and private investments will be required to achieve the goals, both in terms of infrastructure development and technology research.”

It looks like the answer is no. Green air transport is nowhere near becoming a reality. Which leaves us with a situation where, despite knowing air travel is a huge contributor to climate change and knowing our aircraft are nowhere near ‘green’, we’re ploughing ahead for ‘economic’ reasons.

This seems horribly short sighted when scientists are making predictions about the vast amount of damage runaway global warming will do the the world’s economies. After all, we can’t have it both ways.

Will the new runway at Heathrow airport actually go ahead?

Runways take an awful long time to build, something locals will probably find comforting. The planning stage alone can take years. And if people take up their democratic right to protest, things could be delayed for a very long time indeed. If not indefinitely.

five bells harmondsworth

Harmondsworth Village – To make way for new Heathrow runway

An airport expansion decision has already been avoided by politicians for almost half a century, so it’s no surprise to see The Telegraph takes a party political view. They say David Cameron will need to ‘face down’ a minimum of five political opponents with constituencies close to the airport just to get the plans through Parliament. But that’s a way off too, with the PM not set to announce his final verdict until the end of 2015.

The Telegraph’s Liam Halligan comments:

“Beyond the noise, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in April that air pollution around Heathrow already breaches legal limits, as aircraft combine with pollution from traffic on the M4 and M25 motorways. To add another 250,000 flights a year to the present 470,000, with all the extra related road traffic, would make a nonsense of our anti-pollution legislation.

Rather than spending at least £17bn on an extra Heathrow runway, with all the expensive demolition, upheaval and compensation that entails, plus countless more billions diverting existing motorways around Heathrow, resources should instead be piled into better road and rail connections between London’s three main airports.”

Halligan also theorises that when push comes to shove, “with his tiny 12-seat majority, Cameron would lose any Commons vote on Heathrow. That could spark a vote of no confidence and bring down his Government.” And Boris Johnson, London’s influential Mayor, joins the fray, claiming a third runway at Heathrow “isn’t going to happen”.

What about the people living near Heathrow?

The 2M Group, founded by Wandsworth Council, say:

“Almost every part of Wandsworth would be affected by aircraft noise if Heathrow expands to a four runway hub. Across London and the Home Counties a total of three million people would be living under its flightpaths. The price is far too high.”

MP Zach Goldsmith is equally disappointed, saying:

“On every level, Heathrow expansion is the wrong answer. – It is already the biggest noise polluter in Europe, and an expanded Heathrow would affect over a million Londoners. It is not possible to reconcile air quality targets with an expanded Heathrow.”

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England is incensed, saying the commission’s “terms of reference were rigged from the start”. The transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has accepted the issues are “not easy to resolve”. And local people are showing no sign of giving up the fight after Sir Howard Davies made his decision.

heathrow aircraft

Heathrow Aircraft Passing Over Harmondsworth Houses

The Teddington Action Group, another collection of determined activists, is trying to bring about a judicial review of what it feels is a ‘flawed’ consultation process. People living in the lovely little village of Harmondsworth will “support direct action against any attempt to bulldoze 750 homes if the government backs expansion.” And residents of the nearby village of Stanwell Moor will no doubt add their voices to the clamour.

Developers are facing yet another long haul

So far we’ve seen five decades of delays plus an enquiry that lasted three years and cost twenty million pounds. The likelihood of work actually starting any day soon has to be pretty low, bearing in mind the sheer scale of the disruption and destruction that’ll need to take place.

Whatever Mr Cameron decides in December, Heathrow airport expansion still faces a long haul. Pun intended. And in the meantime thousands of people living around the planned site and under the flight path will continue to suffer the awful uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds.

YouTube Preview Image

How would you feel if your home was due to be demolished to make way for a runway? Do you think it’s worth the aggravation, worth the impact on climate change? Feel free to comment.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply