Just when we thought airport expansion proposals could not get any crazier, they have. The Policy Exchange think tank has put forward a proposal to demolish Luton Hoo and build a 4-runway airport there, just up the road from Harpenden. London’s Heathrow and Stansted airports would then close, transferring their flights to the new hub airport along with substantially extra services to the new locations in China and the developing world. Passengers would fly in from around the UK and Europe to transfer on to long-haul flights to the new economies, and business people from China would fly in to Luton and set up their headquarters there.
Quite apart from the almost incredible arrogance of the proposals in dismissing at a stroke the interests of the local communities, they miss such obvious practical issues that it’s clear they’ve been produced by a lot of web-surfing rather than an actual first-hand appreciation of the area being discussed and its existing infrastructure. One could almost imagine the date was 1st April not 5th October.
Hills: For a start, the whole area around Luton Airport is very hilly, and while the report acknowledges this it seems to suggest it would be reasonably achievable to level it all off so that new runways could be planted.
Noise: The author blithely asserts that the noise nuisance from each aircraft will be reduced, massively. This assertion is utterly without foundation, and in fact because they are talking long-haul, the larger heavier planes will be inherently noisier and will take longer to climb to altitude and so the noise will last longer as well.
Trains: The suggestion is made that there would be fast trains every 5 minutes to London on the existing 4 tracks. Brilliant – that means that the current semi-fast services on which Harpenden and St Albans rely would be just swept away ?
Flight paths: The planes taking off from Luton Hooey Airport would normally be facing in the wrong direction to get to China – the prevailing wind is from the west, so they take off to the west and would then need to turn to head east – and because they’d be starting from a more southerly position, their tracks would go directly over Hemel, St Albans and Welwyn. on the way out. Fantastic proposal we don’t think!
Oil: The oil that fuels planes is a finite resource. Before long – if not already – the good people of planet Earth will have passed the peak of oil production capability and then the supplies will start to run down. So arguing for more and more increases in airport capacity rather flies in the face of the economic logic which says that dwindling resources start to get more expensive, and then the demand reduces.
Carbon: The government’s own website says that aircraft contributed 6.4% of the UK carbon footprint in 2006, and this will rise to 10% by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Climate change is not going to be slowed down by furthering the myth that nobody can do business unless it involves flying.
Roads: Are the M1, M25 and the A1 quiet roads with very little traffic and no tendency to snarl up? Er, no. So how would they be affected by adding the combined traffic from Heathrow, Stansted and Luton airports plus further expansion? Er, very badly.
Policy Exchange produces report hoping to shift Heathrow a few km to the west, with 4 runways over the M25 …or 4 runways at Luton …
Date added: October 5, 2012
The Policy Exchange, which says it is a leading think tank to deliver a stronger society and a more dynamic economy (nothing about care of the environment) have put forward a proposal to expand Heathrow, by building 4 new runways. And moving the existing two a mile or two to the west, on top of the M25. Then there would be a two more runways, one parallel to each of the shifted runways. The Policy Exchange then says that if this cannot be built, 4 runways could be be built at Luton instead. They claim around 700 properties (in Poyle) would need to be demolished compared to the 1,400 that would need to go to make way for the estuary airport, and its purpose would be to send a “much needed signal to people that Britain is open for business.” They dismiss the problem of carbon emissions by presuming that all homes in the UK will be insulated, so leaving fossil fuel for transport – and that travelling is much more appealing so we can “have the money and carbon allocation to see the world.” A very odd report, with some very dubious logic …..
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The document seems to be based on misleading “desk research”. The airport’s existing footprint is already far bigger than the thoroughly-misleading “noise contours”, based on A-weighted “equivalent noise”, suggest: with communities more than 20 miles from the existing runway regularly complaining about noise from Luton’s aircraft, particularly at night.
We’ll pass over the odd typo and mis-spellings, invalid assumptions about the relative noisiness of smaller and larger aircraft etc., (some of Luton’s 18-seater biz-jets have no better, and sometimes worse, noise performance than an Airbus A320), and the fact that Luton, at over 500ft above sea level, suffers from bad weather (fog, snow etc.) because it is located on a scarp slope. There are, too, some assumptions and assertions about aircraft noise performance: let’s not fool ourselves that aircraft will get significantly less noisy – improvements in noise performance are asymptotic towards zero now and, in terms of the perception of an aircraft’s noise by the populace below, a QC2 aircraft flyover is only distinguishable from a QC4 aircraft by a trained ear. The difference in real terms can be likened to being hit over the head by a club-hammer instead of a sledge-hammer.
The surrounding terrain is more than undulating, and the notion of constructing a shuttle train route between Tring and the airport (through the Chilterns AONB, but what is that compared with the idea of demolishing Luton Hoo?) is, or should be, as laughable as the “two terminals, one for road and one for rail travellers”; unless Luton’s passengers radically change their ways, only 17% of them turn up on the “reasonably good” train service which is on a busy commuter line.
As for the M1: it IS a major motorway: and it’s already heavily-loaded, at just those times that the current airport has its busiest periods – the consequences of adding the lion’s share of 4 runways-worth of traffic to it is “interesting”. As to the consequences on many of the east-west components of the local road network……
Nice try, Policy Exchange: It’ll have got folk talking.