Heathrow airport has just submitted its proposals to the Davies Commission which is looking at options for expanding airport capacity. Rather than pushing the much trailed third runway at Sipson to the north of the current two runways, Heathrow has submitted three alternative options, one to the north, one to the north-west and one to the south-west. Heathrow says all options are cheaper than creating a new hub elsewhere, such as a ‘Boris Island’ in the Thames estuary. Its preferred locations are considered to be either to the north-west or the south-west. This latter option is likely to be the one with the biggest impact on Twickenham. Oh, and there might be a fourth runway too, but not until 2040 of course. Here’s one local’s view on the proposals. And it’s fair to say he isn’t happy!
“Many Twickenham residents will have greeted today’s news that Heathrow airport would like a third runway with casual disinterest or even pleasure. “Hey,” they might say, “Maybe it’ll bring more jobs to Hounslow, and our daily lives won’t really be affected, will they?”
Unfortunately, a third runway to the south-west of Heathrow — rumoured to be the airport’s favourite of three options put forward — will have a devastating impact on Twickenham.
What do you like about the area now? Is it the tranquility of the river, Marble Hill or Richmond Park? The outdoor community events at Diamond Jubilee Gardens or quaint old Church Street? Maybe just sitting in your living room with the windows open on a summer’s day? What if jumbo jets were constantly thundering overhead, shattering the peace?
We already get a taste of this when the wind blows from an easterly direction. Planes have to take off into the wind, so occasionally some Heathrow departures head over Whitton, Twickenham and Teddington. Happily though, this only happens about one day in seven — the wind in Britain blows mainly from the west — and even then an hour can pass with barely a murmur from the skies. But if a south-western third runway were built, planes would be flying over us every day and, if they followed a similar pattern to the existing flight paths over Richmond and Brentford, landing craft would drone past every 90 seconds, creating an almost constant wall (or ceiling) of sound.
Some might argue that Heathrow brings prosperity to the area, so expanding it can only boost the local economy. Well, yes, some residents work at the airport. But the vast majority do not and the financial benefits to most people and businesses are negligible.
In fact, the economic effect a third runway could have on Twickenham’s population could be profoundly negative. Would you buy a house under a proposed new flight path? I wouldn’t. Richmond is an attractive place but, even if I could afford it, I would never move there because of the aircraft noise. People claim that the planes haven’t harmed Richmond house prices, but that analysis doesn’t go much beyond noting that it’s an expensive place to live — most of which is down to the park, the river and its proximity to London. If it was quiet, too, prices would arguably be much higher. By contrast, if Twickenham was suddenly blighted by constant din, house prices could plummet.
The real financial winners of expanding Heathrow would be its Spanish owners and the construction companies. Jobs would be safeguarded and created, too, but so they would if Gatwick or Stansted were expanded or a Thames Estuary airport built.
Heathrow claims that we shouldn’t worry too much about noise, because aircraft are getting quieter. They are, but by such a tiny amount that this argument is an irrelevance. A jumbo flying overhead is a huge, thunderous proposition and will remain so for decades. Electric planes are not around the corner.
Others would claim we shouldn’t moan because the airport was there when we bought our homes. Well, the new proposed flight path wasn’t and we live six miles from Heathrow, not on its doorstep. Indeed, Heathrow flights have increased exponentially in the last 40 years, so to claim we shouldn’t object to the noise because we haven’t lived here since before the airport was built is like saying you can’t complain about the busy country road you live gradually turning into a motorway.
We can all hope that the Davies Commission will throw Heathrow’s proposals out. It may well do. But we cannot assume this. Now is the time for residents to make it clear that Heathrow expansion cannot and will not stand. Waiting until a plan is approved may mean battling impossible momentum.
The author is a local resident and, as you might have detected, strongly opposed to a third runway. That’s one view. What’s yours?