By Rob Gray
On Wednesday 3 December the Airports Commission, the independent body charged with making a decision about where to expand airport capacity in the south of England, came to Heathrow to hear evidence from local people about the future of Heathrow.
For the first time ever, residents who are in favour of expansion made their views known. The Commission can now be in no doubt: a majority of local people are in favour of growth, at a bigger, better and quieter Heathrow Airport.
The day kicked off in the way that many predicted, a handful of people formed a tiny protest outside the hotel's entrance, whilst two members of 'Plane Stupid' scaled the roof over the hotel's entrance and sat there, preventing guests from entering the hotel. What happened next surprised everyone, except us. Our supporters took their position next to the four protesters - just dozens of ordinary people making their case for a positive future for their community.
The silent majority certainly found its voice! Our supporters sang and waved placards urging Sir Howard Davies and his team of Commissioners to hear their side of the story. You can see a picture of our supporters in full voice above. Opponents admitted it was the first time they had ever seen a pro-expansion protest.
As well as making a scene outside, we had a job to do inside. The Commission heard evidence from both Heathrow Airport and Heathrow Hub, laying out their plans for the future of the airport, and how a bigger, better and quieter Heathrow could bring so much prosperity to our area. Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith, who is no fan of the airport (except for when his constituents are using it), and he used his speech to attack Back Heathrow and its supporters, claiming that we're a 'bogus’ campaign.
Our supporters were quite surprised and offended to be referred to as 'bogus', particularly when they have lived in the area for decades and have been supporters of our campaign for many months. Had Zac Goldsmith stayed and listened to our supporters, he would have known that they are like the majority of local people, proud of the airport and keen for more jobs and better prospects for local people. Instead he insulted local people who support growth and discounted their views.
Then it was time for Rob to speak on behalf of the campaign. It was a privilege to speak on behalf of our 50,000 supporters, if the commission had allowed it we would have preferred them to hear from you all individually, but we don't think they've got a fortnight to spare! You can read Rob's speech here but we'd like to share a small part of it with you:
"We only exist because of our thousands of supporters - they are our core and our strength. They are the reason we are here today".
Despite all the nonsense that has been written by those who hope we will fail, nobody can deny that truth. People who have said 'yes' to expansion, and 'yes' to a bright future for our local communities. You are the reason why we were able to have our voice heard yesterday.
Time and again throughout the day, pro-Heathrow residents rose to their feet to give the Commission their heartfelt views. It was truly inspiring to hear how passionately local people felt about the airport past, present and future.
There are of course two sides to every story, and it was also an opportunity for those who oppose the airport's expansion to have their views heard. We know that not everyone wants Heathrow to expand. It is important for the Commission to hear about the concerns people have, but also the constructive ways that the airport hopes to address those concerns. Many pertinent and valuable points were made on both sides of this argument.
Even if you couldn’t all be there yesterday, you can still make your views to the Commission known. You can contact the commission to provide your views through their consultation page on their website.
Our supporters are our core and our strength, and the only reason we're here at all.
By Rob Gray
Today has been yet another significant milestone in our campaign, as the Airports Commission launched its public consultation. To support this, they have also released detailed analysis of all the options over hundreds of pages, but don’t worry, we’re not going to make you read it!
If you are interested in all the details, they can be found on the Airports Commission’s website, but we thought it might be a good idea to spare you the effort and bring you some of the headlines.
The Commission has been very clear that building additional capacity at Heathrow would provide a much needed boost to our local economy and huge economic benefits for generations to come.
An extra runway at Heathrow could benefit the economy by up to £211 billion, whilst also creating almost 180,000 jobs by 2050. By 2030, 41,000 of these jobs would be at the airport alone. Proposals to expand Heathrow would benefit the UK as a whole, boosting jobs right across the country, and not just in west London and the Thames Valley.
The Commission’s workings are complex, but more importantly they are independent of both Heathrow and Heathrow Hub, the promoters of the expansion projects at the airport. What is interesting is that in terms of the economic benefits of Heathrow’s expansion, the Commission has said that the airport’s own estimates were too low and that expansion would have a bigger effect on the local area and the UK than the promoters anticipated.
Local people will also benefit through reduced noise from aircraft. As the report notes: “When compared to current noise levels, fewer people are predicted to be affected across all metrics”, meaning that even a bigger Heathrow would lead to a smaller number of people experiencing noise than they do today.
The report also, for the first time, puts a figure on the price of doing nothing at Heathrow. Anti-expansion campaigners have always accused Back Heathrow of ‘scaremongering’ for pointing out that doing nothing would lead to fewer jobs at the airport. The Commission’s report estimates that there could be 14,000 jobs fewer jobs at the airport if Heathrow doesn’t grow.
These jobs would not all be lost in one day, but instead as part of the steady decline over the years, something we have warned about over the past few months. This report now shows that there are 14,000 local reasons why doing nothing at Heathrow is not an option.
The Airports Commission's findings show beyond doubt that our campaign has been right to call for expansion to boost our local economy and to protect our local communities from decline. Despite this, the campaign is far from over, and there is still a long road ahead before the Commission makes its final decision.
By Rob Gray,
The debate around airport expansion is often complex, as you might expect for a decision that could have such an enormous impact on the future of the UK’s aviation policy and the economy. Despite this complexity, the question facing the Airports Commission is a very simple one: Heathrow or Gatwick?
It might not surprise you to learn that Back Heathrow is firmly behind both Heathrow Hub and Heathrow Airport’s proposals for expansion. Whilst we don’t oppose an additional runway at Gatwick, any expansion at Gatwick must not be at the expense of extra capacity at the UK’s only hub airport: Heathrow.
This week anti-expansion group HACAN published a blog in which the Chair of HACAN, John Stewart, said he would not lead a campaign for NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard). In his blog, John noted “I have watched nimbys in action and I don’t like what I see. I get particularly irritated by nimbys picking and choosing arguments to ‘support’ their case when they really mean ‘not in my backyard’.”
At Back Heathrow we were particularly dismayed to see a small number of NIMBYs in action over the past few weeks, where some politicians in west London feel that they cannot support expansion at Heathrow due to misplaced ideas of opposition, but are quite happy to expand other airports instead. Only this week Wandsworth Council was called the ‘NIMBY capital of Europe’ for opposing Heathrow, but backing Gatwick expansion.
Wandsworth noted the importance of airport expansion and the ability of growth to create ‘valuable new jobs’. These benefits could just as easily have been used to support Heathrow. Wandsworth is clearly picking and choosing the arguments that they wish to use to support their case, when, as John Stewart noted, they clearly mean ‘not in my back yard’.
What is really needed in this debate is facts. Luckily for us, the facts are firmly on Heathrow’s side. Figures released from the Civil Aviation Authority show that Heathrow’s position and value as the UK’s only hub airport continue to make its case for expansion stronger. Between Heathrow and Gatwick there really is no contest as to where capacity is urgently needed:
- Heathrow is running at 98% capacity- the only airport in the UK that is almost full.
- Last year 30% (21 million) of Heathrow’s passengers travelled for business compared to just 13% (4.5 million) of Gatwick’s passengers.
- Last year 60% of Heathrow’s passengers were foreign nationals, showing the international importance of the airport and how vital it is to business in the UK.
- Last year 37% (26 million) of passengers used Heathrow as a connecting hub to transfer on to other flights; just 9% (3.1 million) of Gatwick’s passengers transferred. Heathrow is one of only six airports in the world that serves more than 50 long haul destinations, so the ability to transfer via a hub airport is vital to the UK economy.
These statistics are compelling, but even more so when we consider that the majority of Heathrow’s frequent fliers live in the boroughs closest to the airport. What’s more, two thirds of the UK’s air freight goes from Heathrow, 15 times more than Gatwick.
The economic case for Heathrow’s continued growth is overwhelming, and it is facts like these that make our 50,000+ supporters not NIMBYs but IMBYs. Our supporters have chosen to join our campaign because they want to build on the existing strength of the local economy and provide jobs and prosperity for generations to come.
Expansion at Heathrow would provide our local communities with over 50,000 new local jobs, and 10,000 new apprenticeships for our young people, with the potential to end youth unemployment in the areas around the airport. They want these benefits in their back yard.
Doing nothing is not an option. The UK is falling behind its competitors, losing around £14 billion every year due to a lack of connection between us and the world’s developing economies. The UK trades 20 times more with nations to which we have a direct connection compared to those with which we don’t. It is vital that we get the direct flights we need to countries like India, China, Russia and Brazil in order to allow British business to take advantage of the huge potential that these global markets offer.
Yet Heathrow is about more than flights to far flung places. It is about thousands of local people being incredibly proud of a major west London employer. There is a wonderful opportunity to secure a bright future for a national asset and the local communities who rely on its success. Let’s stand together and say ‘yes’ to the benefits of a better, bigger and quieter Heathrow.
By Mike Appleton
A slogan frequently quoted by those who oppose Heathrow’s growth is that they want a ‘better not bigger' airport. Since expansion was taken off the table in 2010, some have sought to use the idea that Heathrow could still compete with other hub airports around the world if it simply became ‘better’ at what it does.
Despite overlooking the fact that Heathrow is bursting at the seams, this idea is one that the airport has taken to heart, and it has set about improving its procedures and its operations to ensure that they are as efficient as possible to make the most of the squeezed runways.
The airport has seen record investment, showcased in the new Terminal 2 that was opened by the Queen earlier this year, creating jobs from construction to operation and ensuring that travellers coming to this country have the welcome we would want them to receive.
This week, Heathrow released its traffic figures showing an increase in the number of people using the airport, and just as important, an increase in the amount of freight that passed through Heathrow. Most telling was where the cargo is heading.
In September freight to Mexico was up 57.2%, 52.2% to Nigeria, 37.1% to Russia, 25.6% to China and 20.8% to India. These are the emerging economies, the markets that the UK needs to unlock to ensure that British goods are traded alongside those from other nations. In previous blog posts we have argued that freight is just as important to the UK as passenger traffic with around a quarter of UK exports by value now being sent through Heathrow, an astonishing 86% of all UK air freight.
These increases in passenger traffic and freight are very welcome, but they could only be achieved by using larger aircraft, with more seats and hold space, not by increasing the number of flights. This means that without expansion, the gains made by bigger aircraft will tail off. Any business leader will tell you that a business that is not growing is stagnating and that jobs will have to be cut to keep the business viable. This is not scaremongering, it’s how business works.
What these numbers also show is that a new runway at Gatwick simply does not solve the UK’s capacity problem. With Heathrow full to capacity, airlines could have taken their business elsewhere. They could have left Heathrow’s busy runways in favour of Stansted or Gatwick, both of which have room to grow. Instead the airlines at Heathrow have chosen to use bigger aircraft to maximise their routes and capitalise on the huge numbers of passengers that want to fly from the UK’s only hub airport.
It is only Heathrow, which brings together passengers from London, UK regions and other parts of Europe to fill the planes, making long haul routes to emerging economies possible. Gatwick’s low cost carriers rarely take freight with them to their holiday destinations.
Without additional capacity at the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow, flights and airlines will not use the spare capacity at other airports, they will simply go abroad, taking British jobs and business with them.
The Prime Minister has said, that he intends to double the amount of exports that the UK sends to China, but the question is, how can this be done without expanding the gateway responsible for sending a quarter of UK exports overseas? Surely the Prime Minister knows that the UK trades 20 times more with countries that we have a direct air link with, compared to those that we do not.
Heathrow has made great strides in improving the airport under the intense capacity constraints, even Boris Johnson told the BBC: “[at Heathrow] They do a wonderful job in many ways”.
The final word should go to ex-concorde pilot Captain Jock Lowe, “Sometimes people tell me Heathrow should be better not bigger, but when I ask them what they mean, they have no idea. We’ve been making Heathrow better for 30 or 40 years- now it needs to be bigger”.
By Rob Gray
September is always a time of intense political activity, as the main political parties meet for their annual conferences. This year’s conferences are special because it will be the final major meeting of politicians and party activists before the general election; and the decision of which airport to expand.
With the Airports Commission’s process ongoing, senior politicians have been keen not to pre-empt its findings but that has not prevented them from dropping plenty of hints as to where they stand.
In his conference speech last week the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls told delegates “whatever the outcome of the Howard Davies review into airport capacity, we must resolve to finally make a decision on airport capacity in London and the South…No more kicking into the long-grass, but taking the right decisions for Britain's long-term future."
This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said, “We will…decide where to put a runway….Decide or decline. That is the choice.”
These encouraging hints that both Labour and the Conservatives would be willing to make a firm decision on Heathrow’s future are in part down to supporters of Back Heathrow. Just four years ago Heathrow expansion was completely off limits because a vocal minority had shouted louder than everyone else and politicians bought the myth.
Now, the idea that Heathrow could grow is not just back in consideration, it’s on the shortlist. The difference between then and now is local people speaking out to support Heathrow.
We have now have more than 40,000 individual supporters making us one of the fastest growing campaigns in the country. We are reflecting wider opinion in the local area with polling in nine out of ten parliamentary constituencies surrounding Heathrow showing majority support for expansion. The exception is Zac Goldsmith's Richmond seat, home to huge numbers of frequent flyers.
Journalists, politicians and the industry are waking up to the fact that most local people want Heathrow to grow because they value the jobs and security that the major engine of growth in west London gives to the community. Far from the anti-aviation protestor’s view that the battle was 'big business' versus 'residents', it is now becoming abundantly clear that businesses, both big and small, are united with residents in backing Heathrow. Together, we have made this happen.
The hints in those speeches from senior politicians have shown us how far we have come, but we should not forget how far there is still to go. The Airports Commission has said that the UK needs one new runway straightaway, and there is still a chance that Gatwick will be chosen as the location instead of Heathrow. Gatwick is a great point-to-point regional airport in Sussex but we don't think its expansion alone is the solution to this particular problem. It would not solve the blockage in the system: a lack of capacity at the UK’s world-class hub airport. That said, any growth must come with clear commitments for a cleaner, quieter Heathrow.
In their conference speeches, both David Cameron and Ed Miliband made reference to people they had met who told them how they could improve the country. I know that if they came to your area, you’d speak up for your airport and your future, and tell them that hints simply aren’t good enough.
The future of Heathrow and local communities are inextricably linked. Heathrow has promised 50,000 new local jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships if it is allowed to expand; each one supporting a household and spending cash in our local area in shops, restaurants and local businesses. If Heathrow grows and flourishes, so too will our local economy and everyone will be better off as a result.
Through the Back Heathrow campaign, we have achieved a great deal together in a short space of time. Only with your support will we be able to finish our journey by taking a golden opportunity for local communities and the UK.
By Mike Appleton
High-quality jobs for the long haul
There is a debate at the forefront of politics this week. A debate that will affect the UK for generations to come and will have far reaching consequences for us all.
We are of course referring to the future of Heathrow – is there something else going on today?
Last week Mayor of London Boris Johnson was selected as a parliamentary candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the next general election. He is 1/50 on to win the seat which has an 11,000 Conservative majority and contains a large number of Heathrow workers.
You’ll no doubt recall the Mayor using his office – and taxpayers’ cash – during the past five years to push for the closure of Heathrow, which would cost the jobs of thousands of west London residents. Despite back-pedalling furiously to gain selection in Uxbridge, he has still refused to rule out resuscitating his plans for a Thames Estuary Airport.
Mr Johnson’s ambitions know no bounds and this makes him dangerous. Yet despite his best efforts, there is a more powerful force on our side.When it comes to Heathrow expansion, politicians and passengers across Britain now stand side-by-side with thousands of businesses and unions representing millions of workers. The vast majority want the UK's hub airport to grow and succeed. Happily, the majority of local residents agree with them, according to regular independent polls and our own fantastic supporter base.
In a sharp contrast to Boris Johnson’s clumsy attempts to put local people out of work, the owners of Heathrow Airport have just announced a series of pledges that will deliver jobs, skills and economic growth to local communities.
Heathrow’s plan could change the economic outlook of this local area forever, and for the better. Not only will the airport connect the UK to the emerging economies around the world, Heathrow has also promised to ensure that tens of thousands of new jobs will be created.
Firstly, the airport has promised to create 50,000 jobs in the local area if expansion goes ahead. These jobs have the potential to reduce unemployment by half in the five boroughs immediately surrounding Heathrow. Amazingly, the airport has also said it could end youth unemployment in the same boroughs through the creation of 10,000 apprenticeships.
The apprenticeships at the airport will be very welcome for many local people. Part of the attraction is that apprentices earn and learn at the same time, picking up skills and qualifications that will be used throughout a person’s career and not just for a six- month contract. Guaranteeing jobs for the future will also allow other businesses, shops and services in the town centres around the airport to boost their income over the years. It will also allow our local councils to plan for better services on the taxes that they can be sure of receiving.
If you know someone who will be looking for work in the future, this plan may be for you. These pledges will build on the strength and success of Heathrow as a place of high skilled, high quality employment for generations to come.
The Mayor’s plans to close Heathrow showed us what we could have lost. This remarkable series of pledges from the airport’s owners demonstrates what local communities could gain.
So, spread the good news and make sure everyone you know goes to www.backheathrow.org/pledge and signs up to support our campaign. If you have already done this, then thank you!
By Rob Gray,
Thank you! This week Back Heathrow's supporters secured a major victory for west London and the Thames Valley. The Mayor of London’s plans to close Heathrow and replace it with housing have now finally been sunk. We all knew that an airport in the Thames Estuary would be catastrophic for this area and the thousands of local residents who would have lost their jobs.
In his decision, the Chairman of the Airports Commission (the body that will make the decision on where new runways should go) Sir Howard Davies said “the closure of Heathrow Airport would be expected to have a significant negative economic impact on the surrounding local area”.
That vital fact was one of the powerful trump cards that convinced Sir Howard to say ‘no’ to Boris Johnson and push his barmy idea off the table. It was thanks to the support for our campaign that this argument won through.
Sadly this decision does not mean that the Mayor will give up or go away. In fact he intends to stand for Parliament in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, right on Heathrow’s doorstep. If successful, you can bet he will use this position to peddle the myth that Heathrow expansion has no local support.
We know that there are already more than 35,000 reasons why this isn’t true.
What the Mayor’s belligerence shows is that this fight is far from over. We’ve dodged a bullet, but Heathrow remains in serious danger of suffering a slow death by decline. As any business owner will tell you, if a business isn’t growing it is stagnating. That’s why Heathrow needs to grow to bring incredible economic and social benefits to our communities, securing more local jobs in the process.
This is half time in the airports debate, and there is much more to do. The Airports Commission have said ‘no’ to Boris Johnson, but we must convince them to say ‘yes’ to Heathrow.
We know that a bigger and better Heathrow is politically deliverable. The airport’s opponents will try to claim that thousands of local supporters don’t exist. Together, over the coming months, we intend to show them how many local residents want Heathrow to succeed.
By Rob Gray
Last week Hillingdon Council took the extraordinary decision to ban our family fun day which was due to take place on 6 September at a local school. We were shocked that a democratic authority in Britain today would feel so threatened by ordinary members of the public enjoying a day out with their families that they felt the need to use their legal powers to ban the event.
Despite this unnecessary decision by the Council, we have been touched by the many supporters who have contacted us to send their kind words, but also to express their anger at this move. What is becoming clear is that Hillingdon Council’s actions have backfired because far from gaining support from residents, their heavy-handed response has shown that their opposition to Heathrow does not have the support of thousands of people in Hillingdon.
Hillingdon Council often claims to have a democratic mandate for their opposition to a bright future at Heathrow, but it is clear that anyone who tries to challenge this assumption will find the council using its legal muscle. There is a word for people using political power to stamp out the activities of those you disagree with: censorship. If this was happening in another debate in another part of the world, you might expect protest and condemnation, yet here is a council attempting to prevent its own citizens from expressing their own views.
The Council’s draconian ban came days before its favourite politician, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, declared that he would stand to become an MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a short bus ride from Heathrow. Boris wants to close the airport and remains a good friend of Hillingdon’s Dear Leader Ray Puddifoot. Hillingdon’s disgraceful attitude towards its biggest employer is about to get worse.
Back Heathrow’s supporters and all Hillingdon residents have a right to ask: what is Councillor Puddifoot so scared of? What was it about the prospect of face-painted children on a bouncy castle that he found so intimidating that he felt the need to ban the event? Perhaps he thought that the animals in the petting zoo would be the most convincing argument yet for better hub connectivity?
It is clear that the real issue is the Council knew that hundreds of ordinary people coming together to enjoy themselves would reveal an inconvenient truth. For years Heathrow’s opponents have spread the myth that the debate was simply ‘big business against local people’. This event would have shown once and for all that this isn’t true, and it never was.
The terms of this debate are changing, and the bully boy tactics show the desperation that Heathrow’s opponents are reduced to. The good news is that we don’t have to stand for it! You can take action:
What you can do
Show bully boy councils that we will not be pushed around. Please ask a friend, colleague or neighbour to sign up. Tell them why you support the campaign and let them know how they can show their support here: www.backheathrow.org/pledge
The future of Heathrow is an issue of national importance, but it will take the support of local people to stand up for it.
By Mike Appleton
One thing we occasionally hear from the people who oppose Heathrow’s growth is ‘I don’t use Heathrow’. Whilst this is obviously intended to give the impression that they don’t feel they receive any of the benefits of Heathrow, it is almost always completely untrue.
Of course it is perfectly possible that someone might not physically go to the airport and get on an aircraft to meet with clients or to go on holiday, but to say that you don’t use the airport is simply not the case.
Many people understand that much of our fresh produce like fruit and vegetables comes from warmer climes, but you’d be surprised at the key role that Heathrow plays in keeping the economy moving, and the vital role it plays in the lives of those in need.
Pharmaceutical companies use Heathrow to send vital drugs and vaccines around the world. In 2012 one airline alone sent 31 million vials of vaccines through Heathrow, with the UK exporting £2 billion of their vital products through the airport. Pharmaceuticals are typical of the small, valuable and urgently needed cargo that is shipped by air.
Nothing can be more urgent than cargo that can save lives. Whether it is human organs on their way to save lives or aid to disaster hit areas, air freight is the only way to get vital cargo to where it is needed on time.
Yet despite this, cargo planes are pretty rare at Heathrow. Only a small number of routes operate as cargo flights to and from the airport. The majority of freight to and from Heathrow doesn’t travel in dedicated cargo flights, instead it flies under our feet. The millions of people who rely on this ‘belly hold’ freight value Heathrow for the same reason that passengers do, the network of routes that serve the hub airport.
Getting HIV drugs from Nairobi to Newcastle or from Aberdeen to Addis Adaba requires a hub airport to make the journey viable. The day to day deliveries to provide us with the produce that we consume and the products we rely on to go about our daily lives rely on the hub model to make these deliveries cost effective. It is only by funnelling traffic, passengers and freight through one central point that makes it possible to connect many global destinations that can’t sustain a single point to point connection.
Gatwick is not a hub airport. It relies on holiday makers and low-cost airlines for the majority of its passengers. With very few exceptions, low cost operators focus on providing passengers with cheap flights for holidays, not business or manufacturing destinations. For this reason, Gatwick’s operators do not put as much focus on their freight operations. Put simply: Gatwick doesn’t do freight. In 2012 Heathrow processed 1.5 million tonnes of freight through the airport compared to 0.1 million tonnes at Gatwick. Even Stansted processed more freight that Gatwick, although this is mainly through dedicated operations to major cargo centres.
Expansion at Gatwick without growth at Heathrow will only serve to make the UK less well connected for both passengers and the freight under their feet. Gatwick is a great airport to get to Malaga or Majorca, but it can’t help the UK to get machine parts from Leeds to Lahore.
People often don’t realise that air freight is vital to the UK economy: it accounts for around 40% of the UK’s exports and imports, worth around £400 billion per year. Heathrow is the lynch-pin in the UK’s air freight industry with a phenomenal 86% of UK air freight passing through the airport.
A logistics manager for a major pharmaceutical manufacturer summed up the problem when he told the Freight Transport Association, “We need Heathrow and we need it to be a primary hub. It is essential that it receives investment for a new runway because we will start to lose airlines and services to other countries where the hub airports are getting investment and slots are not under so much pressure.”
DHL, ASDA and Ford are just three of the many companies supplying services to manufacturers and UK residents that have expressed concerns about the capabilities of Heathrow given the current capacity squeeze. All understand the value of a successful hub airport to their business models and to the UK economy.
The Heathrow debate is often viewed through the lens of west London or the aviation industry. Looking at the enormous positive impact that Heathrow has on millions of lives every day shows that the fight for Heathrow’s future is far from regional. This is a national issue of national importance, but it will take local people to fight for it.
Hot air but no answers from Heathrow’s opponents
By Mike Appleton
It was shocking but not entirely surprising to read last week that Greenpeace, an environmental group that urges us to stop flying, had been paying for one of its executives to commute by plane. More shocking was that Greenpeace’s UK director John Sauven refused to condemn this hypocrisy. As is often the case with anti-aviation protestors, it’s one rule for them and one for the rest of us.
The truth is that Greenpeace, like the rest of us, rely on air travel for work and leisure. Conference calls and virtual meetings will only take you so far; even Greenpeace have to go and meet their clients or colleagues eventually.
The key to the aviation capacity debate is balancing the needs of businesses and travellers to meet with their customers, friends and family (not to mention the jobs that this supports) with the emissions that aviation produces. Clearly supporting unchecked increases in capacity would be irresponsible. Whilst we back Heathrow’s growth, we would not do so at any cost.
Both Heathrow proposals submitted to the Airports Commission have pledged that any expansion would lead to fewer emissions being emitted in the future than there are today.
This might sound like a dream, but it is achievable. It might surprise you to learn that much of Heathrow’s emissions are not from aircraft, but the vehicles around the airport. Reducing this traffic is key to reducing emissions and congestion. Heathrow’s surface access is going to be rapidly improved with Crossrail connecting the airport to central London and western rail access and southern rail access both proposed in the next decade. By 2030 this would mean 36 trains per hour providing more than 12,000 seats for passengers compared to 18 trains per hour and 5,000 seats today. This would take thousands of cars off the road.
Heathrow Airport Ltd has also proposed a ‘congestion charge’ to encourage passengers to use improved public transport. It is only a suggestion and one which requires very careful scrutiny, but initiatives like this could have a real impact on pollution and congestion. You might expect some support from self-styled environmentalists but none came. Instead Zac Goldsmith called it ‘punitive’ adding “no London Mayor is going to grant permission [for the charge] without a fight.” In opposing measures that would benefit the environment and his constituents, he is simply cutting off his nose to spite his face. It is clear that Heathrow’s opponents are becoming more blinkered in their outlook; any proposal from Heathrow is automatically assumed to be bad.
We all know that aircraft are becoming more fuel efficient, which will mean less fuel burn and a corresponding reduction in emissions. What additional capacity will also bring is more space to land aircraft.
Heathrow is currently the world’s most congested airport, meaning that much like cars in a traffic jam passengers spend a lot of time either waiting on the ground to take off or circling in ‘stacks’ waiting to land. This time matters, circling over London is simply wasting fuel, polluting the atmosphere unnecessarily when the aircraft should be on the ground instead of hanging around.
Taxying on the ground also burns up a lot of fuel and the longer spent on the ground waiting to take off means more fuel burnt unnecessarily. A bigger Heathrow would be a better Heathrow. It would allow aircraft to take off faster and to land more quickly, spending less time queueing on the ground and much less time flying in circles waiting to land. This would lead to fewer emissions and better air quality for all of us. This would not be achieved by only expanding Gatwick or doing nothing.
Far from being the environmental disaster that many anti-aviation groups predict Heathrow expansion to be, it may actually reduce carbon emissions in the longer term. The Government’s Committee on Climate Change found that the aviation industry could increase in capacity by 60% whilst still meeting climate change targets.
We only back growth at Heathrow because we know this protects jobs and reduces the airport’s impact on the environment over time. It’s why more Greenpeace supporters should climb into aeroplanes instead of clambering on top of them.