So you don’t want more planes groaning their way over your house on their way into and out of Heathrow Airport? You are not alone. You think Gatwick might be a better option. Or Bournemouth even? You are, perhaps, a bit of a nimby. Don’t worry, that’s not only normal, it’s sometimes even laudable. Or maybe you think we shouldn’t be facilitating more flights at all, most of which probably aren’t really necessary. Well, get you and your green credentials! On the other side of the debate, who’s shouting loudest for more aircraft capacity? It’s Heathrow of course. That’ll be Heathrow Airport, the airport owned by Ferrovial of Spain, whose primary concern is (or at least should be) keeping its shareholders happy. Its priority is not protecting local jobs or supporting a community or even boosting the UK economy generally. Heathrow is a business. If building a hub airport in the Thames Estuary or on the sleepy village of Upton-upon-Dupton made better commercial sense than expanding Heathrow, they’d be all over it like a rash. If they could outsource a third runway to India, they’d be strategising it and workshopping it right now. That’s fine, and that’s why nimbys are fine too.
So where are we now? The Airports Commission was set up by the Government in 2012 to look into options for expanding the UK’s airport capacity has got around to shortlisting three options for airport expansion. If you want to comment on them you have until midnight on 3rd of February to do it. The options are:
1) Build a second runway at Gatwick
2) Build a third runway at Heathrow to the north west of the airport
3) Extend the current northern runway at Heathrow to accommodate take offs and landings at the same time. (We’ll assume they can get the directions sorted out before they try this)
Who’s opposed to Heathrow expansion? You, probably. Who else? Most of the other residents of south west London apart from those employed in airport activities. Then there’s Richmond Council and assorted other boroughs where increased air traffic will mean increased noise and pollution.
Add to that local MPs Vince Cable (Lib Dem) and Zac Goldsmith (Tory) and London Mayor Boris the Johnson and it’s quite a cast. That’s a lot of people. You may also recall the 2013 poll in which residents of Richmond and Hillingdon boroughs expressed their views on Heathrow expansion. 140,000 people voted (turnout: 41%.) with the results showing over 70% against a third runway and/or more flights. Opposition within Richmond ran at 80%. Like their residents, both Borough Councils remain opposed to a 3rd runway. Meanwhile Hounslow Council is calling for a ‘better Heathrow’, not a bigger one.
Opposition is strong in south west London. The Teddington Action Group has gained a lot of local support recently. It’s not surprising given how parts of TW11 suffered significant increases in noise during Heathrow’s flight path trials last year. There are arguments that the configuration of a third runway would not necessarily lead to more noise over Twickenham itself. Yes, more flights will mean more noise across large swathes of west and south west London, sure, but not necessarily over Twickenham itself. Phew! But give it time and it might be a different story. Teddington Action Group point out that by 2020 all current flight paths will be re-drawn regardless of a third runway. So, build a third runway and bung more night flights into the mix and the prospect of tens of thousands – if not a couple of hundred thousand – additional flights a year doesn’t sound overly attractive.
But Heathrow expansion has its supporters too. The airport is a big employer and it’s also one reason why assorted big businesses have their UK operations dotted around the local office parks. It has brought prosperity to the area. Heathrow even has “genuine” grass roots support too… set up by LHR types no less. It’s running a very slick Back Heathrow PR campaign and has galvanised support especially among those with airport-related jobs. It estimates that over 100,000 jobs depend on the airport. Its website even has an easy to follow “send your comments direct to the Commission here” front page. Back Heathrow have also dabbled in a bit of scaremongering too, presenting the options as a vote between growing Heathrow or seeing it decline, putting those thousands of jobs at risk. Close Heathrow? Heathrow to become the new Biggin Hill? That’s just not going to happen, or at least not until Star Trek style teleport technology becomes much more affordable.
In other words, it really is a pretty straightforward choice between Heathrow staying broadly as it is, and Heathrow growing significantly with all that that entails.
You might not want to read all the documents on the Airport Commissions site but good luck to you if you do. You don’t really need to read them all to have a view. You have less than two weeks left in which to express it to the Commission.
The Commission’s deadline for comments is midnight on 3rd February. As you’d expect, there are plenty of links below.
* Airports Commission Consultation page (deadline 3rd Feb to reply by letter, email or using the online survey)
* The Commission’s online survey
* Teddington Action Group (and yes, they cover Twickenham too)
* Stop Heathrow Expansion
* Back Heathrow
* Heathrow Airport: Taking Britain Further