Blog: Heathrow lost the 3rd runway battle last time – will its new approach succeed?
In a blog, Chair of Hacan, John Stewart, writes about the announcement that Heathrow is prepared to fund residents groups which support a third Heathrow runway, in a campaign called “Back Heathrow”. MPs and councillors from the wider Heathrow area have had letters and half a million newsletters will be sent to homes in West London, by Back Heathrow. In his blog, John looks at how successful this campaign could be, bearing in mind just how fierce the opposition is due to aircraft noise. Heathrow knows it has an uphill struggle to persuade politicians that a third runway in west London would not be political suicide. Presumably this is why it has launched “Back Heathrow” so early – at least two years before any decision is taken. It needs time to try to change the political climate. Nobody seriously believes that with 50% more planes over London, it is going to get quieter. This time round, it is Heathrow, not the campaign groups, that has the mountain to climb in terms of persuading the people and the politicians. It is now Heathrow that is trying to achieve victory against all the odds.
Heathrow lost the 3rd runway battle last time – will its new approach succeed?
13.9.2013 (HACAN blog by John Stewart)
It’s an eye-catching proposal. Heathrow Airport announced last week that it is prepared to fund residents groups which support a third runway at the airport: www.backheathrow.org. MPs and councillors from the wider Heathrow area have had letters and half a million newsletters will be sent to homes in West London.
From Heathrow’s perspective, it is probably the right thing to do. Last time round there were no residents’ voices heard in support of a 3rd runway. The cry from people in West London and beyond was “no new runway”. And those residents were joined by environmentalists, direct action activists, some trade unionists and businesses in the biggest coalition ever assembled against airport expansion in the UK. The message to politicians was that opposition to the 3rd runway was overwhelming.
A 3rd runway is in the “too difficult politically” box because politicians believe it would be so unpopular. Heathrow needs to change that if it is to stand any chance of getting a new runway.
The result has been that the 3rd runway has been put – probably by all parties – in the “too difficult politically” box. Heathrow needs to change that if it is to stand any chance of getting a new runway. It needs to show there is – at least some – local support for it. It needs to convince politicians that it would not be political suicide to give the go-ahead for a new runway. It knows it has an uphill struggle to do so. Presumably this is why it has launched Back Heathrow so early – at least two years before any decision is taken. It needs time to try to change the political climate.
Can Heathrow’s new strategy succeed?
Has it any chance of doing so? The opposition to a 3rd runway remains solid. Borough-wide referenda and polls carried out in Hillingdon, Richmond and Hounslow in the spring consistently showed just over 72% of residents were opposed to Heathrow expansion. Heathrow cities the poll it commissioned from Populus which indicated 46% of those questioned backed expansion. A good result for Heathrow but a successful campaign will need to be based on more than just one telephone poll.
“Back Heathrow’s” early strategy appears to be one of trying to indentify supportive residents living in the areas very close to the airport. From its perspective, that must be the right tactic as the livelihood of so many people in these areas is linked to the airport. But Heathrow will not succeed in changing the perception that there is widespread opposition to a new runway unless it can gain support many miles from the airport, from people who have little or no stake in it.
Heathrow will not succeed in changing the perception that there is widespread opposition to a new runway unless it can gain support many miles from the airport, from people who have little or no stake in it. Just to get some support from communities whose livelihood depends on the airport will not be enough.
That will be a very hard task. In fact, Heathrow may not try. For that is where the other part of the new Heathrow strategy comes into play: its attempt to reassure residents on noise issues. Its submission to the Airports Commission claims that, even with a 3rd runway in place, the numbers impacted by noise will fall because of the noise mitigation measures that will be in place: quieter planes, steeper descents, guaranteed respite periods etc. http://www.heathrowairport.com/about-us/company-news-and-information/airports-commission. This is an even a harder sell: neither residents nor politicians so far show any sign of believing that flight numbers can increase from 480,000 to 760,000 (with a 3rd runway in place) and, even so, the noise climate will improve.
Heathrow: now the challenger
What we do know is that, this time round, it is Heathrow, not the campaign groups, which is trying to achieve victory against all the odds.
As a long-standing campaigner, I find the situation fascinating. It is normally campaigners who have got it all do to, who are up against it. Roles have been reversed because Heathrow lost so comprehensively last time round: http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/how.the.heathrow.campaign.was.won.pdf
The airport is now the challenger. As such, it has been forced to adopt these new tactics. It is too early to say whether they will be successful. What we do know is that, this time round, it is Heathrow, not the campaign groups, which is trying to achieve victory against all the odds.
Results from Hillingdon poll can be seen at https://www.hillingdon.gov.uk/article/26827/Hillingdon-votes-against-expansion
Results from Richmond poll can be seen at
Demonstration of the pitfalls of polls: 2 polls. Same place. Same issue. Utterly different results
June 12, 2013 It is curious that the Hillingdon survey recently sent questionnaires to all 205,634 residents on their electoral role, and got 80,457 responses. Of these responses, 66% said No in reply to the question: “Are you in favour of more flights into and out of Heathrow? Yes/no”. Richmond Council recently also sent out 136,880 questionnaires, and 58,953 responses were received, of which 82% replied NO to the same question. Link to Hillingdon and Richmond poll results . However, in the Populus poll for Heathrow, in response to the question: “Taking everything you know into account, do you currently support or oppose expanding Heathrow?” they say that of the 1,000 or so Hillingdon residents questionned, 47% were opposed and of the 1,000 or so residents in Richmond, 51% were opposed. So with a survey size some 80 times larger, the Hillingdon response was substantially more negative (66% cf. 47%) and with a survey size some 60 times larger, the Richmond response was also substantially more negative, (82% cf. 51%). Click here to view full story…
Over 100,000 residents of Hounslow, Hillingdon and Richmond vote in local polls against a 3rd Heathrow runway or more flights
May 21, 2013 Three of the local council areas most affected by Heathrow aircraft noise – Richmond, Hillingdon and Hounslow – recently carried out referendums of their residents on the subject of Heathrow growth. All three ended on 16th May. In total, well over 140,000 people responded to the polls. They voted overwhelmingly against expansion of the airport, against a new runway, and against more flights over Londoners. In the Hounslow poll, 72% of residents said they are against expansion, but 64% said they did not want to see a new hub airport built if it meant losing Heathrow. 83% of Hounslow residents were in favour of a night flight ban (11pm to 7pm) and 94% wanted better noise insulation for schools and residents living under the flight path. In the Richmond and the Hillingdon polls, 72% were against a 3rd runway, and 73% were against increasing the number of flights. The Standard says the findings of the poll are bound to be exploited by councillors as they go to the voters in next spring’s local elections. Heathrow sought vainly to rubbish the polls by saying they were voting on an outdated 3rd runway proposal. Click here to view full story…
Heathrow Airport to provide funding to set up pro-Heathrow expansion group
June 12, 2013 Heathrow Airport has announced that it will provide seed funding for a new community campaign “to provide a voice for the thousands of local people who support Heathrow”. Plans for the campaign are in their early stages but it said it will seek to establish itself and start identifying and recruiting support before the end of the year. The announcement comes on the back of polling results Heathrow released today which claims almost half the people in the boroughs closest to the airport favour its expansion. The Populus telephone poll took place between 27th February and 4th May, and questionned 6,000 residents in Hounslow, Richmond, Hillingdon, Windsor and Spelthorne. It found that 46% support expanding Heathrow, compared to 43% who oppose expansion. They say 60% of residents feel positive towards Heathrow compared to 6% who feel negatively. In reality, it is well known that the results of a poll depend on the wording of questions, and how they are asked. Previous surveys have shown most residents are opposed to expansion – and many other residents should be questioned in other boroughs to get full data. Click here to view full story…