Alistair Osborne writing in the Times: “Heathrow on flight path to nowhere”
We’re having another go now. And guess what? After half a century on the job and enough documents to fill a fleet of A380s, Heathrow still doesn’t even know where to put its new runway. The best it can offer is three options, with “length varying from between 3,200 and 3,500 metres”. Moreover, that’s just the most glaring key fact missing from Heathrow’s latest consultation paper, the 70-pager apparently giving you the “opportunity to have your say to help shape the emerging proposals”.
Yes, “emerging”. In fact, so many crucial details are still up in the air that it’s hard to spot what the ten-week consultation is consulting on — a point driven home by Wednesday’s parliamentary debate, secured by Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham.
Apart from the multiple choice runway location, there are three possible sites for a new terminal, a smorgasbord of potential taxiways and some gobbledegook about “realigning” the M25. Having noticed that the “M25 is one of the busiest roads in the UK”, Heathrow says it “will ensure that our proposals do not result in disruption”.
So how does it square that with this? “Our current thinking is to reposition the M25 carriageway by approximately 150 metres to the west, lower it by approximately seven metres into a tunnel and raise the runway height by three to five metres so that it passes over the M25 between J14a and J15.” Nothing disruptive about any of that.
What about costs? Heathrow has magically got the cost of the runway down from an initial £17.6 billion to £14 billion. But it’s not just Sir Vince who’s troubled by Transport for London’s estimate that rail and road links to handle an extra 60 million passengers a year, plus tons more freight, will cost £18 billion. “Where that will come from is one of the big unanswered questions,” he told MPs. Heathrow is offering only £1 billion towards it, even if it disputes TfL’s figures.
Two other crucial issues — illegal air quality and noise — get no more than platitudes. And partly because of one vast hole in the consultation. Because the location of the runway isn’t fixed, no one knows where the new flight paths will be. As Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, put it in the debate: “What is clear in the Heathrow consultation is what is not clear; so little is said . . . If it is not yet possible to map the detailed impact on local communities, what is the point of consulting right now?”
Indeed, 50 years on, Heathrow still reckons it’s at such an “early stage in the process” that “it is not possible to know the exact location of flight paths” — something it admits “may be frustrating”. It’ll only pin that down after a “wider programme of airspace modernisation”. And all followed by another consultation.
Yet that will come only after MPs vote later this year on the Airports National Policy Statement, the poll that determines whether the third runway goes ahead. As consultation processes go, it’s all a bit of a sham.
Important points demonstrating how the Heathrow 3rd runway is far from certain, at Westminster Hall debate
On Wednesday 24th January, Vince Cable MP secured a debate in Westminster Hall, on the issue of the 3rd Heathrow runway plans and Heathrow’s current consultation on their expansion hopes. Some of the MPs who spoke were Ruth Cadbury, Zac Goldsmith, Andy Slaughter, Karl Turner and Stephen Pound. They expressed serious reservations on issues of cost to the taxpayer, cost of surface access transport improvements, increased noise, uncertain air pollution, uncertain CO2 emissions, uncertain economic benefits and uncertain links to regional airports. Quotes from the MP contributions are shown below. Just a couple include: Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con) – “one problem with the consultation is that we know that hundreds of thousands of new people will be affected by noise, but we do not know which hundreds of thousands, because the Government and Heathrow have yet to tell us where the new flight paths will be, which renders the entire consultation process entirely disingenuous, if not dishonest? It is a bit like saying, “We’re going to put a new incinerator in your constituency, and we’d like to ask people their opinion, but we’re not going to say where it’ll be put.” Surely the entire basis of the consultation’s legitimacy has a question mark hanging over it.” And Andy Slaughter – “Getting these glossy pamphlets through the door, as one does on a regular basis from Heathrow, sends the subliminal message, “This is a done deal. Get used to it. Get what you can out of it by way of mitigation.” It simply is not good enough.”
Heathrow premature “consultation” demonstrates NOT how inevitable the 3rd runway is, but just how absent any details are
The Heathrow consultation (17th January to 28th March) is vague in the extreme. It purports to be a consultation about how the airport should expand with a 3rd runway. But no government permissions for this has even been given yet, with a vote in Parliament and several legal challenges to be undergone before there is any certainty there will be any 3rd Heathrow runway. The consultation’s main purpose appears to be to give the impression to politicians, business people, the public, the affected communities etc that the runway is a “done deal” and is definitely going ahead; Heathrow is just sorting out some details. That is NOT the case. As the consultation makes manifestly clear, rather than sticking to details of the recommendations of the Airports Commission (on noise increases, night flight curfew periods, location of runway, means of getting over the M25 and so much else) Heathrow is not sticking to this, but trying out other options – which were never part of the Commission’s scrutiny. Far from making the runway look inevitable, the numerous areas in which there is no certainty of Heathrow’s plans demonstrate immense weaknesses. The consultation is aimed at trying to make the runway planning appear sensitive to public opinion. It is in fact far more underhand than that, and highly unlikely that consultation responses – other than endorsing what Heathrow wants – would even be given more than passing consideration.
Heathrow “consultation” largely an exercise in spin – but scary for those whose homes might be demolished
Heathrow put out a consultation on its runway hopes, on 17th January. It is very premature, as it is still months before the government even has a vote on whether to approve a 3rd runway. However, Heathrow is running this “consultation” exercise, partly as a way to give the impression that the runway is a “done deal” and all that remains is to sort out details. In reality, there is little of substance in the consultation, that is in part just a PR exercise. However, it has got people worried and anxious. One reason is the scale of the number of properties to be demolished for the grandiose plans, for the A4, M25, terminal buildings, as well as the runway itself. One of the proposals (remember, nothing is agreed, and this is just the airport trying to persuade people the runway is inevitable – it is NOT) is that 13 homes in Elbow Meadow, Colnbrook, may have to be removed as part of the realignment of the M25 150 metres to the west of the airport. In addition, two of three options to expand terminal infrastructure would see further land grabs needed around Colnbrook with Poyle and Richings Park. And so on. Changes to the plans mean the airport scheme is not the one the Airports Commission gave its blessing to. A key factor is the location of flight paths, but there is absolutely NO information about those. The consultation is therefore largely a sham, without vital details that would be necessary in a meaningful consultation.
Heathrow consultation: their suggestions of how to deal with M25, tunnel, bridge, altered junctions etc
As part of its consultation on its proposed 3rd runway, Heathrow has a section on what it hopes is done with the M25, so the runway can go over it. This is a very expensive and complicate operation, and Heathrow is keen to cut the cost. The proposed runway will cross the M25 between Junctions 14 and 15 (J14 and J15) and will affect the operation of J14 and J14a, but not J15. Other than moving the motorway a long way west, the options are tunnelling or bridging. Heathrow says: “Our current thinking is to re-position the M25 carriageway approximately 150 metres to the west, lower it by approximately 7 metres into a tunnel and raise the runway height by 3 to 5 metres so that it passes over the M25 between J14a and J15. The motorway will then re-join its current route. ...We believe this approach is the most deliverable as it would allow construction to proceed while the existing M25 motorway remains in operation. This minimises impacts to road users and has the least overall impacts on communities during construction and long-term operation.” And they say the 3rd runway will mean more traffic will want to pass through junctions 14 and 14A, so they will need to be expanded. Illustrations show some different options.