Why we need to fight The Third Runway
Communities unite to fight the Third Runway
March 2015 – Last night saw a coming together of politicians of all parties, Trade unionists and environmental campaigners at Church House Conference Centre in Westminster for the Rally against the Runway, organised by independent campaign group HACAN Clearskies. (As previously reported on our site by Heathrow Villages ward representative, Bryan Tomlinson)
Chaired by HACAN’s John Stewart, this was a community reply to the significant financial muscle of Heathrow Airport Ltd and their ‘astroturfing’* propaganda arm, Back Heathrow, who have spent millions plastering adverts over newspapers, the internet and just about any billboard in London they can find. Go on any tube train currently and you will see those ad’s, usually with a modified Union flag, telling you how the country needs this expansion – Ironic when none of the investors in the airport are actually British!
It was a rare showing of political unity but totally justified when out of 27 surrounding boroughs, only 2 actually support expansion (Hang your heads in shame Spelthorne and Slough!)
Many valid points were raised by the speakers – Destruction of housing, pollution, noise, the lack of infrastructure to support additional traffic around the airport, the flawed business case and the madness of allowing an increase in numbers of aircraft flying across the densely populated urban sprawl of London to name just a few.
There were veterans of the previous campaign – Outgoing Uxbridge Conservative MP John Randall (Left) was third up to the podium, with the final speaker being Hayes & Harlington MP John McDonnell – He repeated his call from the recent public meeting that ‘you can’t trust any of the politicians from any of the party’s on this ‘, no doubt mindful that despite his own stated aim to stop the Runway that neither his own Labour party or The Conservatives will say where they stand on expansion before the election, preferring to wait on the recommendations of The Davies Commission that has been postponed until after May 7th.
Former Conservative transport minister, Steven Norris (Below), spoke of the calls in the seventies to make urban freeways on flyovers through London, and that at the time the prevailing wisdom that we needed to be ‘more like Detroit’ in order to get cars around London is similar to the flawed case being put forward that we need more aircraft capacity at Heathrow to deal with increased ‘hub’ traffic.
Headline speaker Vince Cable MP (below left), the current secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, spoke of the flawed projections of ‘hub’ passenger numbers that are being put forward, arguing that the biggest hub of the future will be in Dubai and that Heathrow’s best option for growth is to embrace the switch to more short haul traffic and direct flights to long haul destinations.
MP’s Zac Goldsmith and Adam Afriyie spoke of their determination to beat the runway, with Mr Afriyie (Right) speaking of his childhood in South London teaching him how to fight and if the airport wanted a fight he would give it to them.
Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace’s John Sauven gave the environmental viewpoint, talking of pollution and the effects on climate, whilst Chris Baugh of the PCS Union dispelled the notion that the Trade Union movement are solidly behind expansion despite what the airport would have you believe (Manuel Cortes of the TSSA was also scheduled to speak, but was called away on urgent business before he could do so)
Further speeches were also heard from Lib-Dem GLA leader Caroline Pidgeon, Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia and MP’s Mary Macleod and Andy Slaughter.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also spoke after waiting patiently just before John McDonnell’s closing speech and seemed to be getting over the cold that had hampered her TV performances in the previous week (Below)
UKIP transport spokesman Jill Seymour MEP was due to attend the event, but due to unforeseen circumstances was unable to show up on the night – With trepidation, I stepped in to represent UKIP and my speech can be viewed below –
Cliff Dixon speech to Rally against the Runway
I’m sorry that Jill Seymour MEP, UKIP’s National Transport spokesperson, is unable to be here tonight but as UKIP’s candidate in the constituency that includes the airport and a Hillingdon borough resident I hope I can speak from the heart and tell you why UKIP is firmly against another runway at Heathrow.
With a life long interest in aircraft, I can see the idea of a third runway for what it is – Not an essential requirement for the UK economy, but a cash cow for the investors in Heathrow Airport to swell the coffers of their bank accounts.
They care not for our local communities affected by noise and pollution on the flightpaths in to the airport – Indeed, Akbar Al-Baker of Qatar Holdings, a major stakeholder in the airport, has been quoted in the national press as saying that locals enjoyed ‘excessive freedom’ and ‘made too much fuss’ about noise, which they would ‘soon get used to’.
It may be fun to visit an airshow for a day, but it’s not much fun for Heathrow Villagers who see aircraft flying over their houses every couple of minutes – Some of whom have been in those houses for generations before the expansion of Heathrow in to the airport that is has become today. People I have been fortunate to meet and class as friends who stand to lose those homes if expansion goes ahead and will see a community they have been a part of torn asunder.
This is to say nothing of the pollution that increased aircraft activity will bring. My mother was a Hillingdon resident who suffered with breathing problems which have now mysteriously disappeared since moving out of the area . How many of our children in Cranford, Sipson, Harlington and Harmondsworth are suffering similarly today?
We hear from Heathrow Airport Ltd that newer aircraft are less noisy and less polluting. That might be so, but if there are more of them then those benefits will be negated by sheer numbers.
I have stood close to an Airbus A380 at Farnborough Airshow and it is indeed an improvement noise wise on take off, but that same almost empty plane sounds somewhat different with a full load taking off from a runway at Heathrow – Those here from Harlington will know what I mean.
They also neglect to mention that their proposed steeper glide paths to offset noise in the outer boroughs will require faster deceleration on final approach, meaning more ‘reverse thrust’ and increased airframe sound – You can only do so much because of the sheer physics of aircraft design and those closest to the airport, our community in Hillingdon, are likely to see increased disruption from these measures.
So, what can be done?
Heathrow is a major employer in the area and has been here for many years. It has become a part of our daily lives.
However, it can be a better neighbour to us all by engaging with the local community over improved noise mitigation.
Heathrow can improve operations by looking at the flights that operate out of it – For a ‘hub’ airport, there are a disproportionate amount of short haul point to point flights versus long haul.
There also needs to be a radical rethink of the ‘grandfather rights’ that allow airlines that have traditionally had landing and take off slots to use under occupied or empty flights to block out new routes from coming to the airport and making better use of the existing runways. By doing this, it will preserve and create jobs that Back Heathrow have been scaremongering will be lost whilst improving relations with those of us who live daily in its shadow.
Whatever people’s view on whether we actually need to increase aviation capacity in the South East of England, there is no convincing argument for building a third, and possibly fourth, runway at Heathrow particularly when weighed up against all the arguments against it.
If we do indeed need to increase aviation capacity in the South East of England then we need to be smarter in our use of the existing airports in concert with Heathrow. In London, we have 7 runways spread around 6 airports. We also have an unused large runway at Manston in Kent that can be re-opened if necessary and would not require the decimation of housing nor bring the noise and pollution issues we would see at Heathrow.
Finally, improving our communications networks should be a priority and would do away with the need for some of the business flights.
I stand here tonight alongside our community and members of all political parties and none who oppose a Third Runway at Heathrow.
Whilst this is a non-politically aligned event, it will ultimately be politicians who make the final decision on whether the runway gets built.
I can relay a message from Jill Seymour MEP, that UKIP stand with you in opposing the Third Runway at both a national and local level.
Make sure that those who seek your mandate at the General Election can say the same with their national party’s support and hold them to account at the ballot box.
The future of our local communities depend on it.
Thank you very much
Last night’s event showed that local communities and those who represent them will not be bullied in to an expansion plan that benefits the corporate interest of the Airport at the expense of our area. The Third Runway has been beaten before – Through unity, it will be beaten again.
* ‘Astroturfing’ is a term for a fake grass roots campaign propped up by vested interests
Labour MP slams his own party as opposition to the Third Runway Grows
Feb 2015 – Last week saw the culmination of the Airports Commission Consultation in to expansion at Heathrow Airport and with it increased activity from those who oppose construction of the Third Runway.
The Commission is currently looking at three options to increase aviation capacity in the south of England – A new Northern Runway at Heathrow, an extension to one of the existing runways at Heathrow to enable it to operate as two, or a second runway at Gatwick.
With the deadline for submissions to the Commission being 3rd February, Hayes & Harlington MP John McDonnell called a public meeting in Sipson on the evening of 29th January to lay out what the proposals on the table were and how to respond to the consultation.
Around seventy people attended the event at Heathrow Primary School, including seasoned anti expansion campaigners and local councillors amongst the residents who were looking for an update.
The MP started the meeting and ran through the reasons why we should be opposing the new runway, backed up with a handout of copies of HACAN’s ’20 Frequently asked questions’.
The familiar figure of ‘Stop Heathrow Expansion’ chairman Neil Keveren followed and pointed out that many such as himself had made life choices based around David Cameron’s promise that there would be no third runway during the general election campaign of 2010.
The introduction was then followed by a Q&A session from the floor, with a number of valid points being raised. One gentleman, who I was to bump in to again the following week, brought up the state of the properties that Heathrow still owned from their last abortive bid to expand the airport – Managed by local estate agents Campsies, there has been little attempt to keep them in good order and they are starting to look shabby and run down. His own property suffers from blown plaster, leaky taps and damaged double glazing but efforts to get this fixed have been met with little co-operation. The consensus in the hall was that as little as possible is being spent to both maximise profits and to make the area look run down and therefore not such a loss if construction goes ahead.
Likewise, Heathrow Airport Ltd are happy to let properties to transient workers via the agency which John McDonnell said breaks down the unique community spirit in some of the villages. It was suggested that if the runway is beaten again, these properties should be sold back in to the community in a similar way to which the then BAA sold back purchased properties when their expansion of Stansted was turned down.
Council residents will be particularly hard hit if a Third Runway comes about – There will be no compensation for loss of their houses, with right to buy currently suspended in this part of the borough so that speculators can’t get their hands on property that they can then up-bid the Airport on. With lack of council property in the area, most would have to move away.
A gentleman from the back then asked John McDonnell where his party stands on Heathrow expansion, to which he received a reply of , “I don’t trust them”, then clarified with the follow up of, “I don’t trust any of them”. Whilst there is no doubt that Mr McDonnell is genuine in his opposition to Heathrow Expansion, he had already stated at a previous meeting that pressure needs to be brought to bear on the major parties in the UK to make them lay out their position on the issue.
Whilst this was not a politically aligned meeting, the current positions laid out on the night showed that Labour will not give an answer on where they stand this side of the election, Lib-Dems look to be favouring Gatwick whilst only UKIP and the Green Party have made it clear that they are opposed to the Third Runway. In 2010, David Cameron stated ‘No if’s, no buts, no third runway’ (See election leaflet below left)- A position that the Conservative Party are now shying away from, waiting until The Davies Commission gives its report in the Summer after the upcoming General Election.
Again, this was brought up on the night and the opinion in the room seemed to be that the Conservatives are refusing to clarify where they stand for fear of it costing them votes, with the delayed report being a convenient shield to fudge behind.
In order to remind The Prime Minister of his previous pledge, a demonstration was planned at Westminster to coincide with the end of the consultation on 3rd February where a petition was to be handed in at No 10 by a combination of MP’s, local campaigners and residents from across London.
Stop Heathrow Expansion go to Westminster
With freezing weather and a dusting of snow on the ground first thing in the morning, I contacted Neil at S.H.E to make sure that the coach that was being laid on from Harmondsworth was still leaving at the agreed time – Once confirmed, I took no chances and set off early to make sure the 222 Bus Route had not been affected.
Arriving in the cold an hour early, I was happy to bump in to Neil who invited me in to his house for a cup of coffee with other activists whilst we awaited arrival of our transport. Here I saw proof of what he had said about people making lifestyle choices based on Cameron’s 2010 promise – His kitchen is midway through upgrade, whilst other recent work was in evidence. One of the activists joked that we should be campaigning to save Neil’s kitchen!
The coach arrived fifteen minutes early, and around thirty people climbed on board for the trip to London. More activists were expected to meet us there from other parts of the Capital, as well as a number of MP’s and representatives of HACAN Clearskies and Plane Stupid.
An uneventful trip saw us arriving outside the gates of Downing Street just before 1pm, where myself and SHE campaigner Albert were tasked with holding one of the banners whilst photographs were taken.(In picture below to the right, flat cap and brown trousers) We were pitched up opposite the statue of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, but a Police motorcycle officer asked us to retire to the other side of the road where a demonstration area was set up in front of the statue. This we did, but not before the arrival of the first of the MP’s who were going to hand in the petition – Zac Goldsmith, John McDonnell, Mary McLeod and John Randall. John Stewart and Rob Barnstone from HACAN arrived around about the same time.
With national media descending, some ad hoc singing started, soon organised by campaigners and John Stewart in to a chant of ‘No If’s, No But’s, No Third Runway’. A gentleman I have seen before from Friends of the Earth paced around the group with his pipe and walking stick urging everyone to raise their voices.
With the allotted time of 2PM for handing in of the petition fast approaching, the tall figure of Windsor MP Adam Afriyie joined us before making his way across the road and joining the group being ushered through the gates.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Third Runway supporter Ed Balls MP scurrying past our position and challenged him with a shout of ‘oppose the third runway, Mr Balls!’ Whilst he didn’t look up, his pace seemed to quicken somewhat!
Whilst this was going on, the delegation presented the petition and were photographed outside the front door of No 10. (Above)
Kate Hoey MP had also joined the group, although I failed to see her entrance or exit from the venue – The coach came back and picked us up for the return journey to Harmondsworth just after 2.30PM.
A point well made
Small and targeted demonstrations such as this defeated the spectre of the Third Runway the last time around. Despite the vast resources ranged against residents who are opposed to expansion by both Heathrow Airport Ltd and it’s lobbying front group, Back Heathrow, this is a battle that can be won again.
If you would like to get involved, there are a number of non-political groups who are highly active in their opposition – Most notably HACAN and Stop Heathrow Expansion (SHE). Their websites can be visited via the following links –
HACAN – http://hacan.org.uk/
In terms of Environmental Groups, both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are active against Heathrow expansion, whilst local organisation ‘Grow Heathrow’ have taken waste land in the vicinity of the airport and turned it in to a sustainable community.
On the political side, UKIP are committed to opposing a Third Runway at Heathrow whilst keeping the airport open in its two runway format to protect local jobs. If you are against Heathrow Expansion but for local prosperity, then UKIP have a vision and policy in place for General Election 2015 – Voting for the old parties who refuse to tell you where they stand will continue the blight and uncertainty that affects the south of our borough.
The Airports Commission Comes to Town
I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the Airports Commission roadshow a couple of weeks ago, where local people listened to the arguments for and against Heathrow Expansion and were allowed to ask questions from the floor, hosted by Sir Howard Davies.
The day was broken in to 4 sessions, with MP’s up first, Community groups speaking late morning, Local Authority Leaders just after lunch and Business representatives on last in the afternoon.
A table was set up to the right with the heads of the two expansion proposals, John Holland-Kaye (CEO of Heathrow Airport) and Captain Jock Lowe (Heathrow Hub Ltd) answering questions from both the speakers and the floor.
Due to work commitments, I arrived just after lunch at the Park Inn venue where protesters from the group ‘Plane Stupid’ had climbed on to the roof of the hotel and unfurled a banner showing their opposition to the new runway proposals
After clearing security, I was ushered in to the hall where the local authority leaders were putting their presentations. I had just missed our own council leader, Ray Puddifoot, making his speech and arrived as Cllr Carwyn Cox of The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead started his presentation.
He pointed out a number of issues, including the new flightpath trials recently that had increased noise in his borough, excess of Nitrogen Dioxide already around Jct 13 of the M25 with two runways, the overcrowded state of the existing road networks, flooding issues that would get worse with more construction (Who can forget the pictures from last winter of Datchet, Wraysbury and Old Windsor under water?) and the implications for both housing and schools.
Next up was Cllr Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council – He concentrated on jobs, quoting 30% of Southall and 8-9% of Northolt residents depending on the airport for work and his fears that many businesses would relocate to other EU countries without some form of expansion. His solution was ‘Heathwick’ – Moving point to point flights to Gatwick, freeing up slots at Heathrow for the long distance ‘hub’ duties. He also spoke of his concerns around overloaded roads in the area, new flightpath details and a ban on night flights.
He stated that he was glad to see the end of the Estuary Airport proposal.
In my opinion, his ‘Heathwick’ proposal is deeply flawed and by his own admission on the stage a lot of the people in his area are transient workers, so will not have to live with the decisions of the commission for generations to come. He appears to have bought in to the ‘fear factor’ peddled by the likes of Heathrow Airport’s propaganda operation, Back Heathrow.
Sir Howard then summarised some of the discussion and pointed out that the new flightpaths are an issue for the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and NATS (National Air Traffic Services), whilst he is aware of the issues around flooding and is looking at proposals for extra mitigation and funding.
John Holland-Kaye responded that this would be an opportunity to help ‘make things better’ around the flooding issues, whilst Heathrow Airport Ltd would respond in the New Year regarding additional funding for schools and noise insulation.
Jock Lowe pointed out that the Heathrow Hub proposal is cheaper, and therefore more funding would be available for improvements to infrastructure and to mitigate noise and flooding. Neither presenter gave any clear indication of what would be done and how much would be spent.
In terms of noise, the ‘steeper approach angle’ for aircraft coming in to land was again mentioned as a way of eliminating noise in certain areas. This old chestnut is often rolled out, and neglects to mention that a plane coming in steeper needs to decelerate more quickly before touchdown, requiring more reverse thrust and flap, creating more noise. It may mitigate some areas of the flightpath further out, but would increase noise in areas near the runway when the aircraft is at a lower level on final approach. It would also put more stress on airframes, meaning more expensive maintenance for the airlines which I am sure would not be welcomed.
Mr Holland-Kaye then pointed out that the airport charges more for noisier aircraft to land and claimed that Heathrow is 80% quieter than the average worldwide (He neglected to mention that it also takes more aircraft than most, so more ‘quieter’ aircraft still equates to more noise overall)
He then tried to back up this claim by saying that in the near future the noisier 747’s would be replaced with quieter 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft, although whether his crystal ball can see in to what the airlines are planning when he has no authority over their operational decisions has yet to be seen.
At this point, the issue of housing was touched upon. Current plans would see between 700-800 properties demolished when we already have a housing crisis in Hillingdon. Furthermore, the increase in jobs that both proposals claim would mean a requirement for thousands of new homes to be created in the area to house those workers.
Mr Holland-Kaye admitted that housing ‘has not come up’ during their meetings!
The response to the concerns about our already creaking road and rail networks in the area was also answered unsatisfactorily – There was talk of three times as many seats on trains and an enlarged coach station, again without any idea of who would be providing this and where the money would be coming from.
Later on in the day, there was talk of both a Piccadilly Line and Crossrail upgrade and both proposals support access from Southern Rail, although they say it is not vital to the plan.
With both Crossrail and the Piccadilly line being supported from the public purse, you have to ask where the money is coming from when all of the old establishment political parties are telling us that further cuts to public spending are needed to ‘balance the books’.
There is also a proposition on the table for ‘congestion charging’ around the airport, which would hit airport workers and residents alike – Mr Holland-Kaye responded that this would only be an ‘emergency step’ if needed.
Business Leaders put the case for expansion
The final section of the day saw three local business spokesmen state their support for the project – Steve Capel-Davis of Thames Valley LEP, Frank Wingate of West London Business and Geoff French of Enterprise M3 LEP which covers Spelthorne and Hampshire.
They trotted out a series of statistics and predictions – Mr Capel-Davies spoke of 202 of the top 300 UK companies being within 25 miles of Heathrow and of 1 in 20 jobs in his area being supported by it, that 40% of the turnover in his area is from foreign owned businesses and that they have the highest proportion of foreign firms of all 39 development areas across the country and his fears that they would relocate without expansion.
Mr Wingate claimed that his members support Heathrow expansion ‘with conditions’ by a two thirds majority across the six council areas they cover. He pointed out that West London is second only to the City in terms of money created in the UK (Citing a figure of £37 billion per year), and that of the 40% of freight that goes by air in his patch, two thirds is from Heathrow.
Mr French claimed that Heathrow supports a large amount of business in his area, saying that expansion would create 25000 jobs whilst doing nothing would cost 14000. (Again, one has to question how they get these figures and who from)
Sir Howard again summarised, and asked a quite pertinent question of his own.
Mr Wingate wants expansion so the industrial parks in West London can ship more air freight – Sir Howard queried how the road expansion from a very congested part of our surrounding area would be managed to cope with this expansion?
The response was that we should ‘look at strategic road development’ and possibly arrange multiple freight pick ups from more than one business at a time. Having been a resident of West London for my whole life and having seen the massive increase in both traffic and buildings in the area, it would be well nigh impossible to put a major new road through from the likes of Park Royal to Heathrow without massive disruption and dislocation of both businesses and residents. You would also have to factor in the additional congestion that the construction phase would put on already overcrowded traffic arteries such as the A40 and M4, whilst compulsory purchase of land in an area with already high prices would probably render such a project financially impossible.
Jock Lowe came up with an alternative at this stage – Why not only carry high value goods in the hold of passenger aircraft at Heathrow, whilst diverting the rest to freighters that can go to other airports to spread the load?
Response to the proposals
After the business leaders gave their pitch, questions were invited from the floor.
It was obvious that ‘Back Heathrow’ had got as many of their much vaunted support in to the venue as they could, with some rambling monologues from the floor.
There were some passionate responses from the anti-third runway attendees – Neil Keveren, Chairman of SHE (Stop Heathrow Expansion) moved to the front and demanded that the proposers of expansion at the top table ‘looked him in the eye’ when they spoke of demolition of his home and area to make way for their plans.
Bryan Tomlinson provoked some mirth when he stated that The Monster Raving Loony Party had recently backed Heathrow Expansion and they know lunacy when they see it.
For my part, I directed my main response at Frank Wingate – He had said that the businesses he represents want easier access to the cities overseas they do business with. I pointed out that what he was describing is known as ‘point to point’ flight, not ‘hub’ traffic, which is what the Commission is supposed to be looking in to, to which he shook his head.
I followed up with my experience working for multi-national distribution businesses – We do far more business via internet and telephone than by flying anywhere because it is far cheaper and more instant. We can videoconference anywhere in the world at a flick of a switch where the technology is live rather than having to sit 12 hours in a plane and get off jetlagged.
He had quoted the amount of freight flying from Germany to China as being six times more than from the UK, but I pointed out that the Germans are still predominantly a manufacturing economy whereas in the UK we are more geared towards services, finance and high tech industries such as software and computing – Business sectors that would be better served by investment in to a proper overhaul of our landline and mobile communications networks, which lag behind our foreign competitors in many cases in terms of speed and reliability.
Finally, I got on to the subject of the freight traffic that Jock Lowe had mentioned – With freighter aircraft tending to be converted older passenger models, I pointed out that the airport best able to deal with this whilst mitigating the noise factor would be the recently closed Manston Airport in Kent. Manston could be re-opened quickly and easily, has a runway long enough to handle the bigger aircraft and has a glide path over the Channel which means less noise and pollution over populated areas.It would provide much needed jobs and investment in an area crying out for them whilst freeing up slots at Heathrow for the kind of hub traffic that the airport claims to want. Furthermore, relatively small upgrades to surrounding infrastructure (Including a link to the HS1 Channel Tunnel railway line) would enable Manston to operate in a support role for passenger aircraft with transfer times in to St Pancras of approximately 40 minutes.
With this section of the afternoon drawing to a close, Sir Howard then gave a short summing up at the end and I awaited some friends outside before retiring to the pub to discuss the day’s events. Whilst waiting, Mr Holland-Kaye approached me and shook my hand, thanking me for my input which I thought was fairly decent of him considering some of the criticism that I had aired from the floor.
With pint in hand afterwards, I was made aware of one of the speeches from Zac Goldsmith MP during the morning sessions that made a number of very good points.
I have reproduced the transcript below, which asks some extremely pertinent questions
Zac Goldsmith’s speech
I want to briefly comment on the campaign that Heathrow has waged:
You have paid fortunes to Back Heathrow –a bogus community group – even though you have publicly stated that you disagree with its message; expand or wither away.
Essentially you have been funding the dissemination of material you know to be misleading.
Worse, this campaign, which you fund, has targeted elected representatives like the leader of Hillingdon Council in the run up to the local elections. You are vast, foreign-owned corporation, and you have sought to pervert the democratic outcome.
I’d like to hear you publicly defend that, and to know how much you have spent on your PR blitz.
For the record, I understand why Heathrow is waging this campaign – you want the public to fork out vast subsidies to facilitate a near-monopoly, which you will own. But I dread to think what strings you are pulling behind the scenes, with your privileged access to the corridors of power.
For my part, I do not advocate closure of Heathrow. My view is that it should not expand, and I will explain why.
The case for a centralised mega-hub is evaporating, not least because travel is changing; transfer traffic across Europe has been declining for years due to advances in technology and the rise of low cost carriers, while point-to-point trips are increasing.
Across London, only 14% of passengers are transfer passengers, a figure that is expected to fall as more use is made of middle-eastern hubs like Dubai.
In addition, according to the DfT, business flights at Heathrow have been decreasing. In 2000, the percentage of business passengers was 38%, in 2005 it was 35% but by 2010 it was down to 30%.
There is no sense that any of these trends will change. For example we are told there will be a nine- fold increase at London airports in the next decade of new, smaller, and more fuel-efficient aircraft, capable of flying direct to long-haul destinations. Clearly this will have a significant impact on the way that airports are used in the future.
The alternative to cobbling back together a vast foreign-owned monopoly on one edge of our giant city, is to facilitate a super-competitive network, with our three main airports competing properly for customers. Above all that means investing in better surface links.
Like in most sectors, competition encourages innovation, adaptation to new technologies, choice and a better deal for customers. Who would pretend that Gatwick hasn’t become a significantly better airport since it was liberated from the old monopoly?
That’s why the Competition Commission recommended that the former BAA monopoly should be broken up.
An expanded Heathrow would represent a step backwards, a telegram solution in an internet age. It would enable Heathrow to cherry pick the most valuable passengers. Its disadvantaged competitors would struggle, and the effect could be a net decrease in capacity, as well as Heathrow itself reaching capacity sooner than anticipated.
For my part, I am not convinced by the case for expansion anywhere, although I do not pretend to be an expert of predict and supply – but whatever solution is sought, it should surely maximise, not suffocate competition.
It’s worth pointing out, in response to Heathrow’s scare stories that London is already well connected and well serviced. London has 6 airports and 7 runways- more than any of its European rivals. Heathrow has more flights to business destinations than any other airport in Europe; more than the combined total of Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. If you look at Heathrow’s connectivity to China’s most important cities, ranked by GDP, Heathrow has vastly more. More passengers fly in and out of London than any other city in the world.
We’re told that we need a mega hub to maintain routes to low-demand destinations, but that’s not what’s happening. For example New York is one of Heathrow’s most frequent routes. But 29% of passengers to New York are transfer passengers whose contribution to our economy is negligible. Is anyone suggesting those passengers are necessary to keep the New York route open? I believe most of Heathrow’s transfers are on the most popular routes, which would obviously therefore survive without transfers.
Providing passengers with more direct routes and reducing transfers could free up 30m additional passenger places per year at Heathrow. I have no doubt that if anyone bothered to ask passengers, they’d say they overwhelmingly prefer point-to point flights.
I was pleased that the Airport Commission’s Consultation report acknowledged that our economy would benefit from a network approach almost as much as the monopoly approach. If that’s true, it would be very hard, in a democracy, to justify pushing ahead with the option that will harm the most people. And be in no doubt it would, on many levels:
I want to look at the costs of Heathrow expansion.The airports Commission has reported that Heathrow massively underestimated the costings around expansion. As it happens, I believe the Commission itself has too, particularly in relation to surface transport.
Given that Heathrow’s CEO has admitted a successful third runway could necessitate a fourth, these considerations are even more important.
The third runway as proposed by the last Labour Govt would have led to an additional 25 million new road passenger journeys per year. How on earth can our already over-congested roads cope with this extra traffic?
In the medium term, during construction, how can Heathrow divert the M25 & A4 and carry out works to other minor roads, within the same time period without causing impossible traffic disruption for years? What is the cost of that disruption to the economy? Has it even been assessed?
Is it right for the public to pay for all this twice; for the actual improvements, and then through a substantial congestion charge to limit the damage to West London’s economy?
I don’t know if the Airport Commission has assessed the transport implications of a Third Runway on the roads in the vicinity of Heathrow, on local roads in adjacent boroughs, but if not, it’s hard to see how the process can be meaningful, and I urge the AC to commission TFL, who are uniquely placed to examine the issue, to do that work.
Then there is the cost of Noise. Heathrow already has a bigger impact on people’s quality of life, by many multiples, than any other airport in Europe. Heathrow airport, by a huge margin, is the largest noise polluter in Europe. It already affects over 750,000 people. No other country in Europe allows this.
The “next worst” airport in Europe affects less than one third of Heathrow’s total. Schipol, the airport much quoted as Heathrow’s hub competitor, affects sixteen times fewer people.
The WHO has long been very clear about the dangers of this level of noise: aggressive behaviours, stress hormones, high blood pressure levels, antisocial behaviour, hindering child development and so on.
I note that Heathrow has proposed various methods for reducing noise, for example steeper approaches and concentrated flightpaths, and these may have a marginal impact. But if Heathrow wants people to believe that an increase from 480,000 flights to 740,000 will lead to a reduction of noise, then I suggest the rest of their pitch needs to be taken with a generous pinch of salt.
It is worth pointing out that there was nothing stopping the airport bringing in these changes in the years gone by, and I’m interested to know why they are linked only to the prospect of a third runway.
I also want to point out some figures in Heathrow’s and Airport Commission’s National Noise Assessment, which suggest that the North West runway, while potentially removing 250k from the noise contour, would bring a fresh 320k into the noise contours. These are people who have never had to experience what my constituents have had to experience. I’d like to know what weight should be attached to those people who are yet to be affected.
Finally, I want to comment on the process and the politics:
There is a dishonesty in this debate. We are discussing a third runway, but we know that a successful third runway will give rise to a fourth runway. Heathrow’s CEO has said so himself.
Even more importantly, there is no clear information on proposed new flightpaths.
There are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives will be turned upside down, but who know absolutely nothing of it. This is simply not acceptable in a democracy.
I must say that even while Heathrow will attempt to downplay that information, the campaign against Heathrow expansion will make sure they are given it. And the campaign we saw last time around, which was the biggest such campaign anywhere in the world, will appear trivial next to the campaign you can expect if a green light is given to expansion.
Thankfully we do live in a democracy. Governments can make grand promises, but they cannot deliver them without consent. A third runway might be possible in tyrannical regimes, but no one who understands the politics of all this believes it can be delivered here.
2012 – The following letter was published in the Uxbridge editions of The Gazette this week (With slight amendments to fit the size limits)
With the future of commercial aviation in England now in the spotlight, many options are being put forward by government advisors and various think tanks as to how our country can remain at the forefront of this expanding business.
The Third Runway? This will mean destroying an entire community in Sipson and the Heathrow Villages, bring more noise and pollution to an area that already has some of the worst air quality in the country and will pile extra pressure on transport links that struggle to keep up with the volumes of traffic and travellers already put upon them.
Boris Island? Massively expensive, sat in the middle of a main air corridor (The equivalent of putting a bus stop on a motorway), positioned next to a nature reserve so prone to bird strike on vulnerable aircraft engines and will require major development of transport links. Activation would also see the closure of Heathrow and a huge knock on effect to local businesses and jobs in Hillingdon.
West London four runway hub? Same issues as the third runway at Heathrow, just substitute destruction of different communities.
Gatwick or Stansted? Substantial construction works required, inadequate links and runways too short for the largest aircraft.
So, to remain competitive but limit damage to communities and the environment, what is the answer? Firstly, look at the ‘Grandfather rights’ granted to airlines on slots at Heathrow and how some of the airlines fill them with empty aircraft just to deny airspace to their rivals. Secondly, the perfect ‘third runway’ already exists at Manston in Kent which is a designated divert airfield for Heathrow in case of emergency and can handle the largest of aircraft.
Manston is an existing commercial airport which can easily be linked to the HS1 railway and the Channel Tunnel providing fast access to both the continent and Central London and is close to road links from the major ports in Kent. For a fraction of the cost of the other options, Manston can be converted in to a main hub airport to complement Heathrow and provide capacity for the 21st century.
UKIP oppose expansion at Heathrow via a third runway and will be campaigning to support a referendum amongst the communities affected to give them their say on how this issue is resolved.
We will also lobby for the common sense solutions that we are putting forward to provide affordable answers to our country’s air transport requirements.