Evidence session on Heathrow impacts held by the GLA Environment Committee

The GLA (Greater London Authority) Environment Committee held a meeting on 16th March, to which they invited both Heathrow staff (Matt Gorman, and Andrew Chen) and opponents (John Stewart, Jenny Bates and Simon Birkett) to reply to questions. The Committee has serious concerns about the environmental impacts of Heathrow, and they have not yet been persuaded by the bland assurances that Heathrow continues to give. The transcript of the session is not yet available, but it is all on Webcast. Important points were made, in response to Assembly Members’ questions, on issues such as how much Heathrow would actually pay towards necessary surface access improvements; how long Heathrow will take to install noise the pledged £700 million (up to 20 years, Matt Gorman says); and how the ban on night flights should mean 8 hours without planes, not only the six and a half hours without scheduled flights, that Heathrow has grudgingly agreed to consider. The committee have experience of needing to mistrust bland assurances by Heathrow on how a 3rd runway could meet noise and air pollution challenges. They will be submitting their response to the DfT’s consultation on the draft NPS.


Greater London Authority.  Environmental Committee

The Agenda for the GLA Environment Committee session on the environmental impacts of Heathrow expansion, on 16th March 2017.


The Webcast of the session is at

https://www.london.gov.uk/environment-committee-2017-03-16  and starts 2 hours 9 mins and 55 secs into the film.

There are a large number of good points raised.  The transcript of the session will be available after something like 2 -3 weeks, when those participating have had the chance to check it.

Just a few to check out (far easier with the transcript later !):

Matt Gorman

He spoke for the first 15 minutes or so.

Air pollution: 

From 2hrs 26 mins into the film

Who pays for surface access infrastructure: 

From 2 hrs 42 mins 35 secs into the film. Heathrow is not being asked to pay more than, at most, a small proportion of the cost. There is huge uncertainty who pays – so it will land on the taxpayer.


From 3hrs 3 mins 15 secs into the film. John Stewart on how the noise needs to improve. (Too much focus given by Heathrow to slight improvements in noise for individual models of new aircraft, but these are outweighed by larger numbers of flights).

Night flights: 

From 3 hrs 8 mins 30 secs into the film.  John Stewart says there needs to be a period of 8 hours with no flights. Matt Gorman insists they have to start flying by 5.30am.  etc.


From  3hr 10mins 35secs you can see Matt Gorman – on how Heathrow spending some £700 million on noise insulation will take 20 years



The agenda states that the purpose of the session is : 

2.1 That the Committee notes the report as background to putting questions to invited guests about the Heathrow Airport expansion and its environmental impacts.

2.2 That the Committee delegates authority to the Chair, Leonie Cooper AM, in consultation with party Group Lead Members to agree a response to the Government consultation on the draft Airports National Policy Statement.

The witnesses (guests) giving evidence were:

 Matt Gorman, Director of Sustainability and Environment, Heathrow Airport;
 Andrew Chen, Emissions Strategy Manager, Heathrow Airport;
 Simon Birkett, Director, Clean Air in London;
 John Stewart, Chair, HACAN Clearskies; and
 Jenny Bates, London Campaigner, Friends of the Earth.

The Environment Committee has previously concluded that expansion at
Heathrow Airport will have significant implications in terms of noise and air pollution.

4. Issues for Consideration

4.1 The main environmental impacts of Heathrow Airport expansion include noise, local toxic air pollution, and emissions of greenhouse gases. The Environment Committee has previously made a number of publications setting out these impacts …

4.3 On air pollution, the Government states that that permission for the third runway will depend on meeting air pollution limits. Heathrow Airport’s scheme includes plans for improved public transport links and an ultra-low emissions zone for all airport vehicles by 2025.

4.4 On noise pollution, mitigation measures have been announced including a night flight ban, legally-binding noise targets, and noise insulation for local residents.

4.5 The Government also says that Heathrow Airport expansion can be accomplished within the United Kingdom’s overall climate change mitigation and carbon emission goals.


Turbulence ahead: debating noise levels for an expanded Heathrow

16.3.2017  (Airport Technology)

Opponents of a third runway at Heathrow are adamant that the airport cannot expand and at the same time meet limits on pollution. It is, they claim, disingenuous to state otherwise – expansion, in their eyes, means worsening air quality and more noise.

In a little over two months the UK Government’s draft Airports National Policy Statement consultation will close. As that date draws ever nearer, the London Assembly’s environment committee met with a cross-section of people on 16 March to unearth more of the nitty gritty. Much has, understandably, looked at air quality and pollution, but what about noise, which can be just as damaging to health?

Assembly member (AM) David Kurten asked: “How will aircraft noise, and noise from Heathrow, reduce? How is that possible while the airport expands and flights increase?” Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s director of sustainability and environment, highlighted the role of new aircraft, which are quieter and therefore a key plank of Heathrow’s noise mitigation strategy.

“Compare the early 1970s to today,” he said. “The noise footprint around Heathrow has fallen, even as flights have doubled.

“Planes are getting quieter, and Heathrow attracts more of those quieter planes than any other airport. We have more next-generation aircraft than our three closest European hub airports combined. Also, we can fly those aircraft more quietly. In future we’ll be looking at things like steeper approaches into the airport. There’s also operating restrictions [such as on night flights].”

However, there will be people who are not currently affected by noise who will be should the new Northwest runway be built. “Inevitably, when you build a runway, you need a flight path,” said Gorman. “There’ll be people under that flight path who aren’t under one today.”

Heathrow noise measures: just hot air?

This did not cut much ice with some of the committee members. How can Heathrow be certain, for example, that the new generation of aircraft will really make such a difference? Gorman, supported by Heathrow’s emissions strategy manager, Andrew Chen, told the committee that by the time a third runway opens, up to 90% of aircraft will be next-gen types. Landing charges are being used to incentivise uptake. Landing a particularly noisy plane could cost £9,000, said Gorman, while the quietest comes in at £600: “A clear incentive,” he said.

John Stewart, chair of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN), was not convinced, though, particularly with the assertion that noise from Heathrow has declined over the decades. “It all depends on the metric you’re using to measure noise,” he said. “In our view, there’s too much weight given to the noise of individual aircraft, and not enough weight given to the number of aircraft, which has increased dramatically. It distorts how people on the ground are hearing it. Since the 1970s, the number of complaints have soared, because what’s critical to people is the number of planes going over their heads.”

Even with quieter models, something Stewart supports, the volume of traffic is all-important. “If you’re going to increase the number of planes coming into Heathrow,” he argued, “that means it’s going to be a worse noise climate.” There’s a need, HACAN believes, for sustainable periods of respite without noise; “[it’s] central and critical”, according to Stewart. Heathrow is looking at this, confirmed Gorman, as well as putting together a “world-class” noise insulation scheme.

The current estimate suggests this could cost the airport £700m. According to Kurten, however, that money is spread over a period of 20 years, meaning some could be without proper insulation for a number of years. Gorman insisted the airport is consulting on this: “I can’t say any more than we will be looking at it.”

There’s plenty of debate left in this one.