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Five reasons why the expansion of Heathrow is the wrong move for London

KJM Today supports expansion at London's Heathrow Airport. We believe that expansion is long overdue and should have begun many years ago.

However, KJM Today also believes that opposing voices should be heard. The following article was produced and written by the London Assembly and published by on August 15, 2019.

Above left: Heathrow Airport's runway 09 Right threshold, seen from Terminal 5 (Kevan James)

NB: An air-to-ground photograph of a part of Atlanta International Airport's terminal was used to illustrate the article on Medium.

Heathrow Airport’s new runway proposal would enable it to grow from around 475,000 to around 740,000 flights a year.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: it’s bad for the environment, and it’s bad for Londoners.

Here’s why:

5: The consultation process has been confusing for Londoners

We are gravely concerned that Heathrow is prioritising the interests of the airline industry and passengers over and above the wellbeing of Londoners, who are going to be the most affected by the expansion. Thus far, the consultation process has been highly inaccessible to those without the time or inclination to work through several hundred-page documents, and numerous webpages to find information on areas that may impact them.

Many Londoners are cynical about the consultation process; here’s what people have been saying in response to the consultation on Facebook:

  1. Is it me or is it impossible to comment?

  2. Sorry but this consultation is a joke. How is the average person supposed to answer this. I’ve tried and it’s so convoluted and complicated and time consuming that it’s almost impossible to complete. This is my response: DON’T EXPAND HEATHROW.

  3. Made it too hard for normal folk to do. Close dusting runways and don’t expand.

Future consultation processes must be accessible to local people and communities, in all areas but especially those overflown. Further, future consultations should facilitate engagement between communities, so that advocacy efforts do not leave any one community behind.

4: Noise pollution will drastically increase

The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that average noise levels above 45dB are associated with adverse health effects. We asked Heathrow representatives to indicate the number of people newly affected by noise as a result of the expansion. None of the representatives could provide this figure, despite its relevance to the discussion on noise impacts.

The UK Government found that, with the expansion, an extra 539,327 people would be affected should the threshold of annoyance be extended down to their limit of 51dB, taking the total number of people in the noise annoyance footprint to over 1.15 million.

Further, NHS guidelines say that getting less than seven hours of sleep can damage mental and physical health. The proposed expansion plans suggest the ban on night flights would be between 23:00p.m. and 5:30a.m — just 6 and a half hours.

We’re recommending that Heathrow commissions an independent noise impact assessment to better understand the harms of aviation noise and determine an appropriate, evidence-based noise threshold. In addition to that research, we’re calling for specific, stringent and binding targets for noise reduction, based on lower thresholds of disturbance, as specified by the WHO.

3️: There will be more air pollution

The Government has said that any increase in pollution from an expanded Heathrow would be acceptable as long as emissions remain within legal limits — i.e. do not exceed the worst pollution levels in the whole Greater London area. But if air quality is improved in one area of London, that shouldn’t mean it is acceptable for Heathrow to increase its contributions to air pollution.

It would be illegal to worsen and prolong local breaches in health-based air pollutant concentration limits.

2: There will be more pollution from cars

The proposed expansion of Heathrow will significantly increase traffic, and there’s been a real lack of planning for improving surface access (the way cars, buses and lorries will be managed going to and from Heathrow). This increase will have a serious impact on air quality in an area already experiencing high — and potentially illegal — levels of pollution.

Currently, 40% of Heathrow’s passengers are using public transportation, up only 1% in the last 10 years. The Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) required Heathrow to drive up the number of passengers using public transport to 50% by 2030 and 55% by 2040. With another 10 to 12 million passengers travelling to and from the airport with the expansion, how is it possible Heathrow will deliver on its goals?

Heathrow has said it relies on public transportation improvements like Crossrail, High Speed 2, Western and Southern Rail, and buses and coaches. But most of these plans fall outside the governance and financial jurisdiction of Heathrow — meaning taxpayers will ultimately bear the burden. We need to know what surface access is required, how much it would cost and who would be expected to pay for it.

And further, these objectives are significantly lower than the Mayor’s city-wide target of 80% of journeys being taken by walking, cycling and public transport by 2041. Heathrow’s targets should be consistent with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and the draft London Plan, so as to not undermine city-wide efforts.

1: There will be increased carbon emissions

Heathrow is the biggest single source of carbon emissions in the UK, and though the Government just announced plans to meet new, much tougher “net zero” greenhouse gas target by 2050 — aviation is not currently included in these carbon budgets.

Emissions after expansion will be eight to nine million tonnes higher per year. This is equivalent to over seven million passenger vehicles driven for one year.

Proposed plans to reduce emissions rely primarily on technological improvements — but there is no credible evidence that technology will be available fast enough to support and deliver on Heathrow’s net-zero carbon objectives. For instance, Heathrow indicated landing fees would be waived for electric planes. But Cait Hewitt of the Aviation Environment Federation said in our meeting that they “foresaw no [implementation of the use of] electric aircraft this side of 2050.” Therefore, waiving of landing fees is not a fitting incentive for the near future.

So how can Heathrow expand while ensuring the Government meets its carbon objectives? That’s what we need to know before we move ahead with expansion.


London Assembly

The London Assembly holds Mayor Sadiq Khan to account and investigates issues that matter to Londoners.

KJM Today Opinion: