Opinion (LibDem Robin Meltzer): “Heathrow expansion: big money versus public health”
Robin Meltzer is the prospective LIb Dem candidate for the Richmond Park seat (current incumbent is Zac Goldsmith). In a blog in Liberal Democrat Voice he says the LibDems are strictly against any 3rd Heathrow runway, and against all night flights at Heathrow. He reiterates the fact that over 725,000 people are already affected by noise from Heathrow, making it the airport the noise from which affects more than any other in Europe. This causes health problems. He says: “A 3rd or 4th new runway ….. would lead to the destruction of homes and entire villages. It would be an environmental outrage and a noise pollution disaster for hundreds of thousands of residents, including people not currently affected. Yet the whole pro-expansion side of the issue, which is rolling in money and spending it furiously, is able to get its views across forcefully and frequently in the media. So it is important to challenge the assumptions and myths.”….”It’s not exactly rocket science to realise that the massive industry that has grown up around lobbying for expansion serves well the people who would benefit from it. “
AirportWatch is non-political, and does not support any political party. The blog is copied below, for information.
This week’s ‘advertorials’ from Heathrow Hub were just the latest example of the role big money plays in the so-called aviation ‘debate’ in West London. [Heathrow Hub had very expensive full page adverts in the major broadsheet newspapers – costing well over £200,000 in total. AW].
Heathrow [airport]’s rival PR team accuse Heathrow Hub (following so far?) of coming up with plans which fail to “provide respite from noise for local residents.” Which may well be true but would probably receive more sympathy from people in my neck of the woods if it did not come from a company which itself was investing so heavily in lobbying for more night flights and up to two new runways.
For those who do not live in London or the South East, it is worth quickly recapping the facts – the sort of things you won’t find mentioned in the advertorials from Heathrow hub, the massive adverts from Heathrow plastered around London, or the sponsored events at party conferences.
Before any expansion option is even considered, over 725,000 people are already affected by noise from Heathrow. [Heathrow’s own info at link ].
No airport in Europe comes even close to that level of noise pollution. In fact, half of all the people in Europe affected by aircraft noise live under the Heathrow flight path.
Yes, you read that correctly. Of all the citizens in all of Europe who suffer from aircraft noise, half of them live near me!
This is not some NIMBYish complaint or simply an irritant. People close to the airport are more likely to suffer health problems and high levels of stress and anxiety due to exposure throughout the day from aircraft noise.
Just last month, a study in the British Medical Journal became the latest to address the issue. It found the risks of stroke, heart and circulatory disease are higher in areas with a lot of aircraft noise. The study of 3.6 million residents near Heathrow Airport suggested the risks were 10-20% higher in areas with the highest levels of aircraft noise.
The health impacts of living with constant aircraft noise are particularly serious when it comes to Heathrow because of the night flights regime which currently sees thousands of people living under the flight path woken up before 5am. These night flights rid residents of their few hours of respite from aircraft noise.
The Liberal Democrats passed a new resolution at our conference in Brighton in 2012, explicitly committing the party to a policy of no night flights at Heathrow (except, of course, for emergencies). It is very difficult to imagine any business-case for jet-lagged trans-continental commuters arriving in London for a working day beginning at 5am.
A third or fourth new runway at an airport positioned so close to a residential part of our capital city would lead to the destruction of homes and entire villages. It would be an environmental outrage and a noise pollution disaster for hundreds of thousands of residents, including people not currently affected.
Yet the whole pro-expansion side of the issue, which is rolling in money and spending it furiously, is able to get its views across forcefully and frequently in the media. So it is important to challenge the assumptions and myths.
London already has more runways than any European city with the exception of Paris (and far more passengers fly in and out of London than Paris link). There is existing capacity in the UK which is under-used, not least because the airlines are still using the slots at Heathrow for small planes which are not even full. And passengers from regional airports are travelling through Heathrow to get to the continent, on planes which take up slot space, with no incentive to change.
But what about the economy, the pro-expansion lobby ask. How can we continue to compete without better connectivity?
Of course London must be connected to the world – and especially to the fast growing emerging markets. But Heathrow expansion is not the answer. Richmond Heathrow Campaign (RHC) is a non-partisan anti-expansion pressure group which has made a series of proposals to the Davies Commission looking into aviation capacity. RHC point out that figures from 2010 show that UK business long-haul accounts for just 2% of the UK’s total 182m passengers. Foreign business long-haul passengers coming into the UK is also at just 2%. Foreign leisure long-haul (eg. Chinese tourism which benefits our economy) is at 5% and UK leisure long-haul (so people leaving the UK) is 11%. So longhaul represents 20% of the market, excluding transfers. When you then factor in how badly used our city’s and country’s existing airport capacity is, the real picture starts to emerge.
It doesn’t suit all the players in this game to highlight the inefficiencies. Why, for example, does Heathrow say it is full at 70m passengers a year when Terminal 5 was supposed to provide capacity for 90m a year? Does it suit Heathrow more to just continually push for expansion rather than to help manage the UK’s existing capacity properly?
Heathrow is a company; it naturally wants to expand.
It’s not exactly rocket science to realise that the massive industry that has grown up around lobbying for expansion serves well the people who would benefit from it. But let’s not forget that any proposals from either Heathrow or Boris Johnson for large-scale aviation expansion could only ever be made good with lots of money from the public purse.
However cynical the lobbying has become, though, let us be in no doubt why the Heathrow expansion issue is back as a clear and present danger. It’s because the Conservatives are divided and chaotic on an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of residents. The Conservative Mayor of London says he would like Heathrow to shut down altogether. Meanwhile, senior Conservatives in Parliament say we should actually be building not just a third but a fourth runway there. This constant confusion is unfair on residents who were told at the last election that the Tories had seen the light and would oppose expansion at Heathrow.
We need a strategy combining the existing and under-used capacity of Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick – and indeed regional airports so that passengers stop having to go via Heathrow to get to Europe. Investing in transport infrastructure to link our existing airports is the sustainable way to go.
The Liberal Democrats continue to provide the only rational and consistent approach: we are opposed to a third runway, we have blocked it in this Parliament, we were the only Party to vote against it in Select Committee this year, and we continue to oppose all night flights.
To join our campaign, visit www.no3rdrunway.org.uk
* Robin Meltzer is the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Richmond Park, North Kingston & New Malden. [Constituency currently the seat of Conservative Zac Goldsmith].