Deja vu or political incompetence? The Independent on Sunday has revealed that Tuesday’s interim report on the future of the UK’s airport expansion policy, chaired by Howard Davies, will set out three options for extra capacity in the south-east, and they all involve the expansion of Heathrow. Like it or not, we’re back where we were in 2009 when the Labour government supported Heathrow expansion. But we didn’t need it then and we don’t need it now.
How have we got here? Over the last few years, since the decision of government to rule out expansion at Heathrow and at the other major airports in the south-east, we have seen a massive corporate lobbying campaign. Heathrow has spent millions of pounds on lobbying for expansion, some of which you may have seen in advertised in newspapers and on the London tube.
All this corporate lobbying has resulted in a hijacking of the debate, convincing the public that we are facing an aviation capacity crisis. This has never been true and is something that Davies is said to be pointing out in his report.
The truth is that Heathrow has long been Europe’s biggest hub airport. Already more passengers fly in and out of London than any other city in the world, and the airport has more flights to the top business destinations than any other in Europe. A study published in April this year by Hacan, which campaigns against noise at Heathrow, showed that nine of the 10 top destinations served by the airport are shorthaul. Plenty of capacity could become available if we moved most of these journeys to alternative and less polluting methods of travel, such as rail on routes from London to Paris and Edinburgh, which are the fifth and sixth most popular destinations.
Additionally, we cannot afford to forget that a third and/or fourth runway at Heathrow would have devastating implications for climate change. There was a warning in 2009 that a third runway would result in 220,000 extra flights a year; in emission terms, this is equivalent to the entire country of Kenya’s annual output.
Ensuring that the UK meets its target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 will be impossible if any of the options proposed by Davies are taken up. The transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said on Sunday that the government “haven’t ruled anything out yet” but he must take into consideration that any U-turn will create a policy that is mutually incompatible with the Climate Change Act 2008.
There is so much at stake. Anyone living in west London can tell you about the noise pollution. There is also the issue of local communities that have been blighted by this political football for so long now. Zac Goldsmith MP still threatens to resign if there is a U-turn; Boris Johnson is going berserk. The locally embedded protest camp Grow Heathrow, in the village of Sipson in Middlesex which faces full demolition, now finds itself right at the heart of the resistance.
At Plane Stupid HQ, we have been spending the week reminiscing about occupying runways and the houses of parliament, while wiping the dust off our d-Locks. Thousands of climate change protesters are on alert.
Here we go again.