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Blog:  Leeds Bradford Airport expansion plans – legal arguments about emissions

Blog from GALBA (the Group for Action on LBA) – the local community group opposing expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport

3rd November 2020

By Nick Hodgkinson, (GALBA)


Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) wants to expand from 4 million passengers per year to 7 million by 2030. LBA has submitted a planning application to Leeds City Council (LCC) seeking permission to extend daytime flying hours, allow more flights at night and build a new passenger terminal. The Group for Action on LBA (GALBA) is fighting this application, with a particular focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We now know that LCC has been given legal advice on what councillors should take into account in respect of GHG emissions, which has presented us with a worrying problem. The following sets out the advice given to LCC and GALBA’s response.

Leeds City Council’s advice:

when LBA’s planning application was discussed at a recent meeting, planning officers gave legal advice (paid for by the Planning Dept) to councillors on the committee. This advice accepted that the climate impact of LBA development is material to the decision but said that councillors should not take into account the climate impact of GHG emissions from domestic and international flights – only GHG emissions from LBA’s ground operations.

Planning officers said that domestic flight GHG emissions are covered by the UK carbon budgets, and international flight GHG emissions are covered by the UN’s CORSIA offsetting scheme, therefore they should not be taken into account in local planning decisions. At the meeting, LCC’s legal officer said that because of this, if councillors were to take GHG emissions from flights into account in their decision, they would effectively be ‘double counting’ them. Policy SP12 of the Leeds Development Plan (called the Core Strategy) supports development at LBA subject to any adverse environmental effects being properly mitigated. Planning officers said that their legal advice means that policy SP12 can only cover the environmental impacts over which LBA has direct control – ie ground based GHG emissions only.

The Group for Action on LBA (GALBA’s) response:

GALBA’s barrister is Estelle Dehon, of Cornerstone Barristers. She has sent open advice directly to all councillors on the planning committee (called Plans Panel).

Below is a summary of her ‘plain language’ open advice – a full copy of this, and her more detailed legal advice, are available here:

When considering Leeds Bradford Airport’s planning application, the Plans Panel is under two legal obligations relating to the climate change impact of the proposal:

(1) The Panel cannot grant or refuse planning permission unless it:

(a) understands whether the proposal will have a likely significant impact on the environment by contributing to climate change and

(b) takes that impact into account in making its decision on planning  permission.

This is the obligation in regulations 3, 4 and 26 of the Environmental Impact  Assessment Regulations 2017 (“EIA Regulations”).

(2) The Panel is obliged to consider climate change impacts when it decides  whether the proposal fails to comply with the Core Strategy policy SP12 because of its adverse environmental effects; and whether it fails to comply with paragraph 148 of the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”), which requires planning decisions to “shape places in ways that contribute to a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”.


It would be unlawful for the Plans Panel to ignore the climate change impact of the proposal, or to assume that the impact can be accommodated (for example, by assuming that national carbon budgets can absorb any extra emissions; or by assuming any international carbon reduction schemes will reduce or neutralise extra emissions).

If the Panel made these assumptions, it would be doing the opposite of what the EIA Regulations require. Ignoring the climate change impact would also fail to understand policy SP12 and paragraph 148 of the NPPF.”

The open advice goes on to outline in more detail the obligations imposed on the planning committee by the EIA Regulations. It explains that ‘climate change impact’ means the impact of any additional emissions which contribute to global heating, both GHG emissions and non-CO2 radiative forcing.

It points out that the EIA Regulations require all climate impacts to be taken into account: direct (from building a new passenger terminal); indirect (from the additional flights allowed by changing current restrictions), cumulative (over the years) and in-combination (occurring alongside similar developments).

The open advice then stresses: “The existence of … national [carbon] budgets does not mean the Panel can avoid determining the likely significant climate change impacts of the proposal, nor can the Panel just assume that the national government can absorb the extra emissions from the proposal into the budgets.” It also explains: “…carbon budgets are only one of the [UK’s] environmental protection obligations. There is also the more stringent obligation under the Paris Agreement.”

The open advice continues: “it would also be unlawful for the Panel to assume that any extra emissions would be absorbed by CORSIA” pointing out that: “CORSIA has not in fact begun to operate as a carbon offset regime. It begins with a pilot phase in 2021 and a voluntary phase in 2024, and the details of the scheme are yet to be determined… even if it operates with the best anticipated efficiency, [it will] only cover 6% of projected CO2 emissions from all international aviation between 2015 and 2050.” The open advice also refers to the CCC’s Net-Zero Report (May 2019) which states: “It is essential that these internationally focused efforts are additional to putting in place robust and effective policies to achieve net-zero GHG emissions domestically in the UK and are not an alternative for doing so.”

On the requirements of local and national planning policies, the open advice reminds councillors that local policy SP12 only supports development at LBA subject to the proper mitigation of adverse environmental impacts, saying: “the Panel cannot simply assume that the existence of the UK carbon budgets and CORSIA will mitigate the GHG emissions or the warming impact of contrails…”

Finally, it reminds the Panel that paragraph 148 of the NPPF requires planning decisions to “shape places in ways that contribute to a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”.


in summary, the open advice states: “the legal obligations in regulations 3, 4 and 26 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2017, the statutory duty in section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the obligation in national policy to secure a radical reduction in GHG emissions mean that it would be unlawful for the Plans Panel to ignore the climate change impact of the proposal, or to assume that the impact can be accommodated.”


No date has been set for the Plans Panel to make a decision, though we believe it will be late November or December 2020.

Whatever happens, it is unlikely the story will end there. If GALBA wins, LBA can appeal; if LBA wins, GALBA will raise funds to seek a Judicial Review.

GALBA on Twitter at  @GfAoLBA

GALBA on Facebook at

GALBA on Instagram at




“Why we stopped carbon-offsetting our flying”

Eco-designer and doctor Linda Thomas explains why carbon offsetting turned out not to be the answer in the quest for a low-carbon life

Blog by Linda Thomas on the Flight Free website
2nd April 2019  (With kind permission from Linda and  Flight Free)
It’s been a journey. When we fell in love, we both worked hard in ‘caring’ professions, and going on adventures to the other side of the world was one of our treats. We thought we’d earned it. We felt like responsible tourists, keen to explore local cultures and wildlife. Happy to tip local guides and to buy hand crafted items direct from local artisans without unscrupulous bargaining.

Then the magazine arrived. An article in ‘The Ecologist’ about the impact of flying. How could flying be so bad and we hadn’t realised it? We couldn’t look the other way. So what did we do? We started carbon offsetting our flying. Planting trees that would absorb our CO2 and pump out oxygen in the process. It was a win, win.

We felt better for a year or two. In effect we had thrown money at the problem but we hadn’t gone through any radical change of behaviour and we were still enjoying the same experiences, from wildlife safaris to snorkelling with turtles. At one point, we had even been swimming around a reef that was 90% bleached coral and we made no connection with our own actions and what was happening in the oceans. I remember one friend (who flies more than us) commenting on how we always seem like we’re going on honeymoon as we visited places that many newly weds go. They were incredible. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t flying all the time – usually once a year.

Then we read something else: one return long haul flight could undo all the CO2 saved by someone living off grid for a whole year. We talked about it, as we still do (but now with our son too). We didn’t feel OK about flying anymore. Trees take a long time to grow. This climate issue was urgent and we were banking on trees letting our emissions off the hook over the next 100 years, and they might not even last that long. So we decided we would stop flying altogether. That was over 13 years ago. Honestly, we really missed it for the first few years and then again when our son turned out to adore wildlife so much. We felt mean that we had experienced things that we were not letting him do. However, he has never asked us to take him on that flight. He sees what is going on and he doesn’t want to fly. He would love to go on safari but thank goodness he hasn’t got the all too common mentality of “I’d like to see this lovely animal/place/culture before we make it extinct”.

The adventures didn’t stop. We love exploring locally and have had close encounters with wildlife near to our home as varied as wild boar, deer, many species of bird as well as dolphin and seals. We typically travel to Europe by train once a year and we have had numerous incredible experiences with octopus and beautiful fish as well as owls, reptiles, birds and bats. All with really low tech equipment: good walking shoes/sandals and a snorkel. We have also travelled by train with our inflatable stand up paddleboards which was a new way to explore the coastline. We enjoy our train journeys, usually incorporating a city stay en route in Paris or Barcelona, and having a sense of where we really are in the world. The journey is part of the holiday.

We have also given up work flying too. This was not such a big deal for us compared with many people, but it still matters. Giving up flying for work has a double impact and a triple impact if you also have a high profile. In the words of Professor Julia Steinberger our “ripple effect” is even more important than our personal impact. If we stop flying and inform others why we are doing so then we can bring about more change than just changing our own behaviour. When you offer alternatives or turn down something altogether because of flying, by its very nature you are then causing another organisation to think about flying and their business. This might be fleeting or it might be a game changer, so never doubt that saying no to one flight can have an impact.

There are three important questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I believe climate change is real?

2. Do I want to respond to it?

3. Am I prepared to stop flying?

If the answer is yes, then educate yourself so that you really know why you are making this change, it will really help. Then look at what you’re going to add in and not just what you’re going to take away. Have you always wanted to walk around the Cornish coast path, or immerse yourself in the Welsh mountains or escape to a Scottish loch? Explore new ways to travel. I thoroughly recommend for train travel as he gives every route option imaginable as well as easy links for buying tickets.

This is a Climate Emergency and we need to change our behaviour individually and collectively now.

Linda Thomas makes luxury up-cycled clothing at Linda Thomas Eco Design, based in Bristol. For more, visit her website.


Make the pledge to be flight-free in 2020


By Flight Free UK

Flight Free UK is a people-powered campaign which asks people to agree not to fly in the year of 2020 – knowing that 100,000 others have pledged to do the same. It’s about taking collective responsibility to reduce the amount we fly in order to lessen our impact on the planet.

​Flying less is one of the most powerful ways we as individuals can reduce our carbon footprint, and with experts predicting that we have just a handful of years to take meaningful action on climate change, there has never been a better time to address the issue.

​Many of us fly without a second thought – it is an ingrained part of our culture, and a part of our global society, as people, goods and services are transported around the globe. Flight Free UK aims to raise awareness of the impact of those flights and inspire people to take action.

​It is easy to think that individual actions don’t make a difference, and not to bother trying. But if we can show that there are 100,000 people who are prepared to take an air-free year, we send a clear signal to industry and politicians – and also to each other – that there are many who are willing to change their lifestyles to protect the climate.

Please sign up !

No photo description available.



Trade Unions must demand jobs that protect our planet, not destroy it

By Tahir Latif,  Public and Commercial Services union,  NEC Member

President of the PCS Aviation Group.

5th January 2019

The Heathrow third runway has – along with fracking – become emblematic of the dilemma we face, as a country, a planet and a species. With the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) setting the countdown at twelve years from now, are we going to do the work needed to avoid an existential catastrophe or not?Too often, trade unions are seen as part of the problem, desperate for jobs and therefore willing to support employers who are intent on blindly taking us towards disaster in the name of further profits.This is an unfair characterisation. Many unions, including the so-called ‘polluting’ unions, are active in the struggle for environmental justice and the protection of local communities.But where the issue involves the current employment of its members, short-sightedness can set in as much as for any profit-fixated Chief Executive. Such is the case with trade union support for the third runway.No one is disputing that a union’s fundamental objective is to protect the jobs of its members. Nor do we fail to understand how that might lead you to defend airport expansion, fracking, oil drilling etc.

But that does raise two important questions: (1) does our survival as a species trump the jobs argument and (2) does the jobs argument stand up to scrutiny anyway. In reality the answers are inextricably linked. Consider the two choices we have on offer right now…

First, we have an employer whose claimed job numbers have no substantial basis and which have been debunked by a PCS-commissioned report. Why a union would choose to parrot those job numbers and add the comment that all 180,000 will be ‘good, unionised jobs’, let alone co-host events with the employer to promote those claims, is beyond comprehension.

By contrast, Labour is offering to govern ‘with’ the unions, to consult about new (renewable) industries, Just Transition, alternative ownership models, workers’ rights and protections, and eliminating poverty wages. Crucially, Labour has also expressed an intention to create ‘climate jobs’, the jobs (in energy, transport, food production, health and many other areas) that are needed to salvage and restore our environment.

The impact of climate change can’t be underestimated. With more frequent and intense ‘freak’ weather events causing untold catastrophe right now, how can we seriously propose putting 260,000 more flights in the sky every year? As for air quality, Central and West London are air pollution hotspots, responsible for thousands of premature deaths and loss of quality of life.

The IPCC report puts us on notice: we HAVE to change. And if industries like aviation (and oil, coal, gas etc.) cannot continue their unchecked growth, then unions are NOT looking after their members long term interests by clinging to them. When change comes or is forced upon us, workers in those industries will be stranded in obsolete jobs without the skills or any plan for an alternative.

In contrast, taking up the Labour offer would actually protect members through participation in what the future employment structure will look like, securing assurances about workers in polluting industries and establishing how to fill the skills gap.

In no way would engaging in those conversations compromise the protection the unions provide to their members right now; PCS is fully committed to protecting its members at Heathrow, no less than any other union, even while opposing the runway. You can do both.

Finally, unions need to learn the lessons of the past. Less than glorious episodes dot our collective history when women, and ethnic minorities, first entered the labour market, resulting in the worst forms of discrimination born out of protection of (white male) members. We know better now, so why would we want to repeat the same errors when it comes to the climate.

Instead of associating ourselves with the kind of growth that the planet cannot sustain, unions need to DEMAND CLIMATE JOBS NOW.

Tahir Latif

Public and Commercial Services union

NEC Member


One person’s impression of the alarmingly inadequate DfT consultation information events on the Heathrow draft NPS

From a resident living west of Heathrow, who visited one of the DfT’s 20 information events on the Heathrow draft National Policy Statement consultation.

Following my visit to the XXX consultation recently:

It is telling that 1.5 million homes were mailed by the DfT, and by the DfT’s own admission, due to costs they didn’t mail all communities affected or likely to be affected by Heathrow’s expansion.

Conservatively it missed 0.5m homes at least – that would have brought the number of leaflets up to 2 million homes in total.

Taking a more realistic estimate of the number of people affected by Heathrow noise (not just those deemed to be within certain noise contours – that are based on ineffective averaging of noise) that would indicate that maybe eight million people would be negatively affected by the impact of the centralisation of aviation to our capital city – and an area 30 miles around the airport, just in terms of noise alone.

At the DfT event, I spoke to many of the DfT team and had to ask 5 of the 6 if they worked for Heathrow, as it was unclear whether they were actually speaking in favour of their own employer.

The 6th person, meant to be covering the section dealing with environmental impacts, clearly knew nothing about the subject on their stand. Their lack of knowledge about the subject was woeful, and they couldn’t support the current argument let alone the unrealistic proposals that Heathrow is making, for how it would operate with 3 runways.

The consultation displays failed to highlight the massive impacts that building this runway would have on the public, living in a wide area around Heathrow, in all directions.

The duty of the government, and of the staff in the Department for Transport, in this consultation is to display both the pros and cons of a project, so that the public can decide on whether in their opinion the cons outweigh the pros.

That is what is meant to happen.  But at the DfT “information” events, all that is happening is people are being told – if they have any questions on details of the proposals the DfT is putting forward – that is a 1400 page document available to read, and a 25 page summary, (which I suspect is as biased as are the presentations). That is not exactly, in my view, fulfilling the duty of balanced, fair, fully informative consultation.

The DfT staff (who do not wear name badges, so they cannot be identified) did not want to discuss the negative impacts of any aspect of the runway scheme, nor the questionable mitigation methods for both noise and air pollution, that are being proposed by Heathrow and the DfT.

I particularly liked the notice that by 2030 Heathrow have pledged to ensure that over 50% of travellers will arrive on public transport. That is a pledge.  How are they going to do that and who is going to hold them to it?  And is the almost 50% higher tonnage of air freight also coming to and from the airport by public transport?

The DfT staff manning the exhibition were not aware of (or were ignoring) the fact that Heathrow have stated they will not pay the estimated £16 billion or so of surface access transport and infrastructure costs.  The staff also appear unwilling to acknowledge that Heathrow has only “pledged” to have a six and a half hour period at night without scheduled flights – there is no mention of stopping unscheduled flights. The reality will be very little change indeed from the current situation – indeed it is likely to get worse, with more flights between 5.30am and 6am than currently.

They though couldn’t argue that most adults, and their children, do not sleep only between the hours of 23:00 and 05:30 nor that every other business in the UK is subject to noise restrictions between 18:00 and 08:00 Monday to Friday and during the weekends noise impact is only tolerated between 08:00 -12:00 on Saturday.  Aviation, and Heathrow airport, seem to be put way above the laws that others have to abide by.

At the recent Heathrow Community Noise Forum, the DFT and the rest of the industry stated that they do not know where the flightpaths are going to be.  However, a recent email from the DfT Aviation Policy section received by [our local group west of Heathrow], states that locations likely to be affected by the runway are having the DfT information events.

Even this critical point in terms of impact on the population of future levels of aircraft noise was not made clear in any of the display material. Is this because it is likely that the opposition to the runway would increase in these areas?

The DfT has not had consultations in some areas that have experienced higher levels of plane noise over the past two years.  Is this again to prevent increasing opposition to the runway.

The opposition to the runway will become increasingly forceful and widespread, if new flight paths are introduced over areas that were not consulted or informed that this would happen. There will be considerable anger at the manner in which the DfT has made seriously insufficient effort to inform areas which will inevitably be newly overflown, of future noise levels,.

Heathrow couldn’t have undertaken a slicker sales and PR exercise in favour of a third runway than what the DfT team, staffing these information events have presented as a public consultation.  Anyone unfamiliar with the situation, entering a  DfT information event, would presume it was being put on by Heathrow itself. The closeness of the DfT and Heathrow is inappropriate.

It is a shame that a government body could be so in favour of a commercial enterprise that it fails to represent fully the public, who will in many cases be significantly adversely affected by it.

Name and address supplied ….



Two new blogs arising from the event in Parliament on 4th July, looking at aircraft noise  By Chris and by Murray.

Aircraft noise and mental well-being – the looming challenge only starting to be acknowledged

With thanks to Chris, (West London resident)


Chris spoke movingly at the event held at the House of Commons, on 4th July, about his experiences of dealing with both mental health problems and the unwanted imposition of aircraft noise from Heathrow flights near his home.

He spoke of having suffered from severe depression, with his last episode about 12 years ago, and the struggle following a ‘near death experience’ to slowly reclaim his life after a period of hospitalisation and lengthy rehabilitation. Confidence and the ability to do the smallest of things such as to go out, go to the shops, travel on public transport, and eventually return to work had been lost, and took years to recover.

Severe depression, is a serious illness, which although treatable in many cases, may not always respond. Sadly more than 6,000 people a year commit suicide in the UK each year. Many are severely depressed.

Now much better, Chris does not want to ever trigger a relapse, not least because the prognosis for a successful recovery is very poor. This is why he actively does everything possible to remain healthy, and has publicised the risk of aviation noise to mental health – for example, for people recovering, or who have ‘recovered’ from, severe depression.

Ironically he and his family moved to a new home about four years ago to de-stress. Very soon after, there were unannounced changes to Heathrow flight paths, and the introduction of PBN, meaning much more concentrated flights. The anxiety it caused, was made worse as there was no proper information or reassurance from anyone about what was going on, or why, or when it might stop.  Worse still, it was unclear what, if anything, anyone could do about it, to try and protect themselves. Eventually the feeling of powerlessness, having no legal remedies, and the perceived lack of fairness about the situation, had the effect of increased annoyance and a strong sense of helplessness.

Chris spoke of how difficult it is to describe intense depression, and the feelings of those who suffer from it. The stress is not only on the person with depression, but also on their families.  The strain and uncertainty can be immense, on everyone, and it is not something that is quickly treated with the person returning to being well in a week or two, once they complete a course of tablets.  It can take months or even years to recover, if at all, and for families to begin living and believing again.

The unanticipated and unannounced arrival of aircraft noise, over areas that previously were not affected by concentrated flight paths, is, Chris felt, certainly a trigger for stress, anxiety, and in many cases depression (mental illness). He was convinced, through  ‘lived experience’, that concentrated aviation noise is unhealthy and causes mental health to deteriorate.  The effect can be that people either (newly) acquire depression, or in the case of pre-existing conditions depression/severe depression, is reactivated. These risks and impacts were currently ignored by the government and public health policy.

To those attempting to kick this public health issue into the long grass, advocating further research to scientifically establish a link before doing anything, Chris advised that there wasn’t time.  If flight paths changed in the meantime innocent people who are vulnerable to noise and their families would be harmed. At the extreme, for a minority worst impacted, their risk of suicide could increase.  

As to the question as to whether aircraft noise led to metal illness Chris advised that one merely had to ask the question, ‘does a duck quack?’.

Chris has been taking all steps he can to be pragmatic, to adjust to the noise situation in which he finds himself, while promoting awareness around the issue (the ‘elephant in the room’), and the immediate need for assistance, especially for the  ‘noise vulnerable’.  There is no point if someone is in crisis now, he reasoned, waiting on the chance that they may –eventually – get some assistance from the local airport. For example, double glazed window s may be promised, 6 months or more into the future. The airports, government, public health and local authorities need to understand that in the case of debilitating mental stress caused by the over-flight noise, action needs to be taken without delay. Otherwise he reasoned there could be increased mental illness, or worse.

He noted that there is a whole raft of possible mitigations against the noise, but unless people happen to live within the recognised appropriate noise contour for the airport, (eg . 57dB) they are not considered to have a problem. They are therefore given no assistance.  There is much more that airports could do to help those who really suffer from the effects of plane noise.

Unfortunately the current government policy of reducing the number of people over flown has the (unintended) effect of creating unacceptable levels of noise for the minority that is overflown, by compressing and concentrating noise.  There is not yet proper research into the effects, on physical and mental health, of exposure to high levels of unrelenting aircraft noise, although the NORAH study has made a direct link between increases in aviation noise and depression.  Chris particularly mentioned areas where several flight paths overfly the same areas, giving people a particularly intense noise exposure, and that these are often concealed in noise contours.

In the context of new flight paths / ‘new noise’, and absence of an Ombudsman, Chris therefore advocated,  a ‘double take’ which may be triggered where several flight paths converge at low altitude, with high frequency traffic, and where people overflown have serious pre-existing mental health conditions. Where someone also has pre-existing  hypertension, for example, the risk factor increases still further, and the solution required is amplified. The process should allow the existing flight path architecture to be challenged. If a ‘least harm’, rather than ‘least people’ approach was taken in such case, then relatively minor adjustments in flight paths might see the number overflown increasing.  This might return to more like the numbers who were moderately overflown, before route concentration was introduced. The more equitable sharing of noise could potentially save lives.

Once active mitigation opportunities (flight path location) have been exhausted there needs to be effective, adequate and available passive mitigation measures, with insulation to tackle any significant residual noise. This needs to provide people with choice, and an opportunity to ‘switch off’ noise from leaking into their homes, so people to take back some control.

For noise vulnerable people, the range of insulation products and services needs to increase from the basic acoustic survey, double glazing and insulation to in addition include triple glazing (if it was more effective), acoustic roof lights, and internal and acoustic external window shutters, where required, acoustic baffles, and other measures (Chris listed approximately 12 altogether).

In some cases, the noise levels mean people have no option but to move house.  Financial help needs to be provided in order to do this, and Chris mentioned a range of approaches that could see blended funding – from airport, government and even health sources in the short term  – being used to address this, especially where over concentration has brought the airport perimeter to one’s neighbourhood.

There was much more to be done to protect the potentially badly affected/noise vulnerable people, where respite alone will be insufficient. This is a major concern.  With more planes, and more concentration of flight paths, the issue of the impact of aircraft noise on mental health is an issue that can no longer be ignored.  It must be tackled.  An advanced society should look after the welfare of its more vulnerable members.


Heathrow’s truly negative health impacts on millions of people are not ameliorated by the airport providing local employment

By Murray Barter (RAAN)
At the event in Parliament on Monday 4th July, looking at the links between exposure to aircraft noise and negative mental health impacts, Matt Gorman (Heathrow’s Director of Sustainability and Environment) was invited to speak.

Matt made the somewhat unrelated point, but one that Heathrow is always keen to promote, that having a job at Heathrow, or associated with it, increases physical and mental well-being. True enough, having a job and financial security is much better for mental stability than the     stresses of being unemployed – and having financial problems.  But it somewhat misses the point.

What the meeting was about was the impact of aircraft noise, so this employment argument was seen by some as a cheap point and dismissive of the real problems that Heathrow creates for those its planes overfly.  Employment at Heathrow for a minority is not, and cannot be, an antidote to the known adverse impacts on health, well being and quality of life that are caused by the airport’s operations. These affect hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of people living as much as thirty miles from Heathrow.

Matt’s attempt to excuse Heathrow’s noise impacts, by job claims, was a stark reminder of how the aviation industry continues to seek to spin every ounce of information/data into a positive – for their own benefit.

The adverse effects of plane noise on vast numbers of people – including increased incidence of mental stress and depression  – cannot, and must not, be swept under the carpet merely because Heathrow provides employment. The good does not outweigh the bad, and attempting to blur the two does Heathrow no credit.

There are few bounds to Heathrow’s publicity, propaganda & their deliberate warping of information, data, and science.  The incessant advertising shows this, with several adverts and claims found wanting by the Advertising Standards Authority.

One of Heathrow’s most insidious forms of distorting reality is their use of the outmoded and discredited 57dB “average noise contour” measurement, and also how PBN-based flight concentration is deliberately used to gerrymander the apparent reductions in the size of noise contours. (They recently state a range of noise metrics ought to be considered, though their publicity & speeches always stick to the averaged noise contours, as it shows them in the most favourable light. What would be more appropriate are contours showing individual noise events > 50dB, e.g. grouped into > 25, > 50, > 75, > 100 etc. All studies show significant increases in community annoyance at much lower levels than 57 dB.  See the ANASE study )

Given this, with aircraft landing and taking off every 90 seconds for 13+ hrs/day, it has become increasing clear that raised risk of mental illness for sections of the population is being wilfully – if unintentionally – delivered by Heathrow.

These negative effects are being glossed over and ignored by the airport and those who back its expansion, who are chiefly :

1). A predominance of MP’s from constituencies north of Bedford & west of Swindon who are simply unaware of the serious issues of noise anguish, and the detrimental impacts of airborne pollution & associated surface access movements. The MPs appear uncaring towards those affected.

2). Businesses salivating at the anticipated honeypot of potential profits, from prospects dangled before them of rising GDP and more exports, or airport construction work. They conveniently ignore the likely disproportionate increase in imports, and the capital & jobs outflows, as do Heathrow – which only considers exports and inbound tourists, and not the reverse.

3).  The highly conflicted and aviation-centric DfT & CAA – and the Treasury. (By contrast, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), DEFRA, DCLG, DoH need to deal with the consequences of aviation expansion, with its environmental and social costs).

4). The conflicted Airports Commission, with its Economist-centric staffing bias, coupled with its Chairman who has Prudential board membership . The Commission was given misdirected Terms of Reference (‘to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub’), resulting in only one feasible outcome, given the status quo

Against all this, the tax-paying, law-abiding communities are at the butt end, and in the vast majority of cases, derive no benefit from Heathrow’s operations. The airport has paid lip service to its responsibility to them for decades, never making serious attempts to be a good neighbour. The current Community Noise Forum is the latest in a long line of headline-grabbing, perfunctory talking-shop smokescreens with zero achievement made, after two years and counting.

The Airports Commission didn’t include any economic modelling based upon Brexit, and therefore the discredited, exaggerated and double-counted 60-year economic forecasts need serious and immediate remodelling.  That would immediately downgrade Heathrow’s already patently absurd claims of expected GDP growth.

Incidentally, the Airports Commission didn’t seem to take into account the disproportionate increase in imports that would inevitably happen at the same time as any growth in exports, further adding to our net trade deficit, nor the net capital and jobs outflows. It would therefore appear the £24 million Airports Commission report started out as being misdirected, finished as incomplete upon publication, then became obsolete in under 12 months.

Heathrow expansion cannot be used as a social experiment in noise torture for the unfortunate 20% underneath a proposed “noise canyon” (source: the CAA).  Those unluckly enough to live in these “canyons” are being subjected to inhuman and/degrading suffering and treatment, through the noise burden inflicted on them.  And this excess noise is merely the result of Heathrow, NATS and the CAA attempting to “squeeze a quart into a pint pot” in terms of south east airspace – and enabling Heathrow to meet its allotted (outdated, outmoded, discredited) noise measurement criteria, as set by the government.

What future, 21st century vision do we have for our children and their children in Britain? Are we genuinely serious about schools with adobe huts, as an illusion of outdoor play spaces? Or the desecration of huge areas where instead of homes being places of calm and quiet, they are becoming mental-torture chambers of repetitive noise, where “respite” can shrink to as little as just 4 hours per day without the din?  This is not a modern progressive society, which cares for the well-being of all its members, including the most vulnerable.

Heathrow accounts for 28% of people affected by aircraft noise in the whole of Europe. It talks of an £18.7 billion ‘privately funded’ infrastructure project as a boost for the UK economy at this time,.  However it, and its business backers, conveniently chooses to omit the ‘elephant in the room’ –  the taxpayer requirement of up to £20 billion (Transport for London figure) for regional infrastructure spending needed to support it.  Without these improvements in surface transport, the new runway means gridlock and illegal air pollution for miles around the airport.

I’m sure the government has other rather more pressing priorities than this runway, in terms of time & resource allocation, at this present time where most economists are forecasting downturns of economic activity & travel.

If the appropriate question is posed, Heathrow expansion is most certainly NOT the answer

Two questions:

“Is Heathrow Airport one of the:

a). most mendacious and least trusted

b). most polluting

c). most noisy and most complained about

d). worst positioned major source of noise and pollution

companies in UK corporate history?

And are Heathrow’s multi million £ media and lobbying campaigns, glossing over its insuperable problems that are an inevitable consequence of its operations, a satisfactory and sufficient basis for its expansion?

by  Murray Barter, Residents Against Aircraft Noise (RAAN)

RAAN is one of the groups set up in 2014 due to the worsening noise from Heathrow airport, affecting new areas in Berkshire, Surrey and North Hampshire. RAAN is involved with the Heathrow Community Noise Forum.


New Flight Paths: Bulldozing Over Your House Tomorrow?

23.3.2016 (in the Huffington Post)
By James Lees, Research and Communications Officer, Aviation Environment Federation (AEF)

Imagine this. You live on a relatively quiet road on the way out of town. There’s a bit of traffic as some people use your road on their way home but you expected that when you moved in.

One day, you wake up and overnight bulldozers have turned your road into a motorway with car after car rushing past your house. You later find out that because the council is only ‘trialling’ the change, nobody had to tell you about it.

How would you feel about that? You’d probably be a bit surprised, and most likely very annoyed. You’d probably feel a bit like Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, waking up to find Earth is in the way of a galaxy bypass and about to be destroyed (in terms of being bewildered and still in your pyjamas).

It’s similar to the recent experiences of people living in communities around Gatwick,Heathrow, Birmingham, and most recently Edinburgh airports, all of whom have been subjected to new flight paths as part of trials aimed at increasing capacity at airports.

Many of the communities affected experienced a ‘step-change’ in the number of flights overhead, suddenly being overflown up to every two minutes. For others, it was the very first time they had experienced life under a flight path and the profound effects that high levels of aircraft noise can have on your health and well-being.

Long-term exposure to aircraft noise leads to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Aircraft noise can cause sleep disturbance which can in turn have a debilitating effect on your day-to-day life.

It can also impede memory and learning in school children, with primary school pupils exposed to high levels of noise around Heathrow Airport two months behind their counterparts in schools exposed to aircraft noise levels five decibels lower.

Not everybody responds to aircraft noise in the same way and part of the response to noise of all forms is emotional, and influenced by factors such as an individual’s attitude to the noise source, whether they have any control over it, and whether they expect to hear it.

In the recent cases of new flight paths though, whole communities have been in uproar. This could be because a sudden change in noise exposure is linked to much greater disturbance than ‘steady state conditions’. It could also be because the changes were trials, so required no consultation (hence the Arthur Dent bewilderment).

Or maybe it could be because unlike changes to physical infrastructure, airspace changes don’t legally require any compensation payments. Maybe even it was because aviation is exempt from noise nuisance laws going back 90 years. [ link ]

The experiences of communities around Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh could become increasingly common. According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), airspace is “in need of modernisation” and that means there’s going to be an “unprecedented” number of airspace change proposals in the coming years. These changes could involve new flight paths and new people being overflown.

If changes are to be made to airspace, then communities should be involved throughout the process and their interests should not be overridden by those of the industry, which stands to benefit from the changes.

By way of response to the vociferous complaints of affected communities, the CAA launched a consultation last week on a new process that aims to allow for much better community engagement.

However, having a transparent and open process is only one part of the problem. We also need clearer policy from Government and that’s why AEF brought together 24 community groups to call on David Cameron to deliver that.

Key questions need answering. Does Government think it’s acceptable for new flight paths to expose new communities to aircraft noise? And should aircraft be ‘concentrated’ down increasingly narrow routes, reducing noise for some people but potentially creating ‘noise ghettos’ for those who are overflown?

Finally, how will changes in airspace affect the health burden from aircraft noise? The industry argues that aircraft are getting quieter but annoyance from aircraft noise is increasing, and a recent report by the EU stated that more people will be affected by aircraft noise in the future, not fewer.

There are no easy answers to some of these questions but it’s vital that the Government and CAA start to give communities more of a say, give clarity about what’s acceptable when it comes to flight path change, and make it clear how the impacts of noise on health and well-being will be reduced in the future.

If we’re successful in moving these issues up the agenda, hopefully the aviation industry won’t be able to bulldoze new flight paths over your house tomorrow.

Aviation Environment Federation


Dave – what’s your legacy?


Guest blog from Jenine Langrish – for Hacan

Three parties, three leaders: Tony Blair; Nick Clegg; and David Cameron.  How will history remember them?

Tony Blair united the Labour party and led them to their biggest ever majority and three consecutive election victories.  His government oversaw the introduction of a national minimum wage; freedom of information; devolution; and the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

And yet…if you ask the man in the street, he’s remembered for just one thing: his misguided decision to support George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, justified by the claim that Saddam Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

That single policy decision has led to mass vilification in the media and ensures that he will forever be remembered as “Tony B-liar”.

Under Nick Clegg’s leadership the Lib Dems soared in popularity and surprised everyone by securing enough votes to hold the balance of power following 2010’s election.  For the first time since the days of Asquith and Lloyd George, the political party in the centre of politics held real power.  They can claim credit for a number of policies in the coalition government, notably raising the tax threshold to take over 3 million low earners out of the income tax system; introducing the pupil premium; and creating the Green Investment Bank.

And yet…once again, if you ask the man in the street, Clegg is remembered for just one thing: breaking his promise on student tuition fees.

That single concession in the coalition agreement discussions led to highly personal attacks in the media and to his party’s vote being decimated in the last election.

Which brings me to David Cameron.  He can claim credit for having overseen the recovery from the financial crisis; bringing the deficit under control; and generally keeping his party’s divisions on Europe under control.

But how will he be remembered in ten years time?  The lesson from Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is that the public have little tolerance if they believe politicians have lied or broken high profile promises.  Part of the reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise ascendancy appears to be that Labour’s grass roots supporters saw him as an honest man who’d do what he said he would.

David Cameron’s highest profile promise is of course ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway’.  As he appears to stand on the brink of an about turn on Heathrow he would do well to reflect on the lessons of Tony Blair and Nick Clegg.

Dave – how do you want to be remembered?  Do you want to be judged on your policies or simply remembered as the latest in a line of political leaders who broke their promises.  The choice is yours.

#WhatsyourlegacyDave ?


*** Just as a reminder.  In May 2010 the new government put out a statement of its programme, with the title “Freedom, Fairness, Responsibility”. This stated (P16): 

• We will cancel the third runway at Heathrow.
• We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted 


What if Davies got his sums wrong……

August 24, 2015

by John Stewart

The Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow largely on the basis of the economic benefits it would bring to the country. 

However, over the last few weeks evidence has emerged that the economic case for a third runway is much less convincing than it may have appeared.

What strengthens the argument is that much of this evidence, whilst unearthed by Gatwick Airport and others, is contained in the report of the Airports Commission itself.

We now know:

The case for a new runway at Heathrow always rested on the fact it would significantly improve connectivity * to the emerging economies of the world and that it would connect more UK airports to Heathrow.  The facts suggest otherwise.  A second runway at Gatwick would add 10 new long-haul destinations at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

We also now know:

  • The £147 billion the Commission said a 3rd runway would bring to the national economy over 60 years is likely to be way too high.

Its own experts Professor Peter Mackie and Brian Pearce told the Commission that the method of modelling used by consultants PwC, which produced this figure, faced “a number of difficulties” and was about three times higher than traditional estimates.  Link

Using the more traditional modelling methods, and assuming carbon trading is in place, the benefits of a third runway over a 60 year period fall to £69 billion.  A second runway at Gatwick would bring in just over £60 billion. [These figures are taken from the Airports Commission’s final report, page 147 – for “Total benefits” under a carbon traded scenario, over 60 years].

But, if the costs of the disbenefits (such as noise and emissions) and the costs of delivering the third runway are included, the economic benefits fall to £11.8 billion over 60 years.  The Commission admits Gatwick would be close behind at £10.8 billion. [These figures are from Page 147 of the Commission’s Final report, for Net Present Value NPV (net social benefits and PVC) ].

(Gatwick Airport believes this is an underestimate as it argues the Commission has underestimated the number of passengers it would attract).

A recent report from the Aviation Environment Federation puts the benefits of a third runway even lower as it believes the Commission hasn’t fully factored in the costs of carbon emissions.

But, even on the Commission’s own figures, the economic benefits of a third runway at Heathrow could be much less than has been commonly assumed.

Food for much thought for the cabinet committee which is assessing the Commission’s recommendation.


* Heathrow said: “The measures would boost the seven existing routes, offering the potential for better timed and more frequent flights. In addition, our analysis indicates that passengers would be able to fly from nine domestic airports not currently served by Heathrow, meaning that a total of at least 16 regional airports will have the opportunity of direct links to the UK’s hub.” Link


Why this election result makes it less likely a 3rd runway will be built at Heathrow

8.5.2015  (Blog by John Stewart

Boris Johnson said in his acceptance speech after being elected MP for Uxbridge that he would join John McDonnell and “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway.”

John McDonnell, re-elected as the MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hayes and Harlington, had said in his speech “Whoever’s in government, if they come back to try and build a third runway at Heathrow, we will resist on a cross-party basis, and I expect the person who will be elected to Uxbridge tonight to follow through the commitment that was given by John Randall and join with me in lying down in front of those bulldozers if they come.”

Both men feel very strongly that a third runway should not be built.  And it is this that could make it very hard for the new Government to give the green-light for a new runway. Boris, too, passionately believes there are other ways forward.

Both are willing to be hugely troublesome over a third runway.  There are doing much, much more than going through the motions of opposing because it is an unpopular issue locally.  And they are not alone.  Famously, Zac Goldsmith has said he will stand down and fight a by-election if a Conservative Government goes for a third runway runway.  (In this election he increased his majority from 4,000 to an astonishing 23,000).  And Putney MP Justine Greening had to be moved from her position as Transport Secretary because of her principled opposition to a new runway.

No Government would want all this troublesome and potentially embarrassing opposition to any runway plans.  Particularly when they know other “big beasts” in the Conservative Party are also against a third runway.  Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary in the last Government,Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and probably alsoTheresa May, Home Secretary and Maidenhead MP.

There is also cross-party opposition from MPs around Heathrow.  Conservative MP for Windsor, Adam Afriyie, has been a consistent and very public opponent of Heathrow expansion.  Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter resigned his government position when Labour was in power over the issue.  Ruth Cadbury, newly-elected Labour MP in Brentford and Isleworth, has a history of effective opposition from her days on Hounslow Council.  Ealing and Acton’s new Labour MP Rupa Huq, is against  As were the Conservative MPs they replaced, Mary Macleod and Angie Bray, respectively.  Tania Mathias (Conservative), who defeated Vince Cable in Twickenham, made Heathrow an issue in her campaigning.

Cable himself of course was staunchly opposed as was his compatriot, Ed Davey, who lost his seat in Kingston.  Pressure from Lib Dem heavyweights will be missed but, the way the results panned out generally suggest to me that that it will be increasingly difficult to contemplate a new runway at Heathrow.

This could be the election that finally killed off a third runway at Heathrow.


Why This Week’s Court Ruling on Air Pollution Could Stop Airport Expansion


Blog by y James Lees (AEF – Aviation Environment Federation)

Sat at the back of the Supreme Court this week, while cheers erupted with the announcement that the panel of judges had unanimously ruled in favour of Client Earth’s air pollution case, it is possible to imagine a member of the audience hurriedly typing out a message to his or her colleagues.

It reads: “we may have a problem”.

That person could be a member of the Airports Commission staff and he or she would know that the ruling could mean the end of Heathrow’s third runway scheme and possibly even Gatwick’s bid for a second runway.

The Airports Commission, tasked with making recommendations on the future of UK airport capacity could already have written its final report, recommendations finalised, and be waiting for the post-election humdrum to die down before the report would be launched into the public sphere. The Supreme Court ruling changes that.

There is now a serious challenge to any recommendation to build a new runway, particularly (but not only) at Heathrow. Around the airport, the area is in breach of legal limits for NO2 pollution today and has been for many years. Modelling released by the Government’s environment department revealed that the area around Heathrow is forecast to continue breaching legal limits up to 2030, that’s with just two runways.

The Airports Commission has concluded that expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick would have a negative impact on air pollution through increases in air traffic and cars and taxis needed to carry passengers to and from the airport. This should mean thatunder law, planning permission for Heathrow (and possibly even Gatwick) should be refused as is the case for all developments that will cause air quality limits to be breached, or make air quality worse in an area where pollution already exceeds the limits.

But until now, there has been little reason for the Commission to think that this represented a meaningful barrier to airport expansion. The UK has been in breach of air pollution laws for some time and the Government claimed that it would take time to put in place effective measures to tackle air pollution. Being compliant with legal limits by 2030 was the latest estimate.

The Government’s stance was firmly rejected this week by the Supreme Court when it ordered the Government to produce a new action plan by the end of this year for bringing air pollution within legal limits. Any decision to expand Heathrow could be legally challenged unless the Government’s new plans are sufficiently ambitious to reduce emissions below the legal limit and leave enough headroom to accommodate the negative impact of an additional runway. That is a tough ask and it is pure speculation about how it could be achieved.

The court ruling also suggests that the cost-benefit analysis for expansion will need to be revised since the Government has previously claimed that complying with air quality law would be too expensive. The cost of having to take additional mitigation measures to accommodate increased emissions from a new runway under legal limits should be added to the cost-benefit analysis of a new runway.

Does the court’s decision open the door to a Gatwick runway? Not necessarily. EU regulations require not only that poor air quality must be improved but also that good air quality should be protected. It has been estimated that if all of the local jobs predicted by the Airports Commission materialise following Gatwick expansion, there would be an additional 100,000 vehicles using roads around the airport each day. That could create an air pollution hotspot around Gatwick. The lower background air pollution means that there is a lower risk of breaching the legal limits but a risk still remains.

The Airports Commission, as an independent but taxpayer funded organisation, has a duty to the public not to recommend a project that would significantly damage people’s health. It would also be a poor use of taxpayer’s money to make recommendations that invite a legal challenge. That is why it is possible to imagine a concerned Airports Commission member of staff hurriedly typing away on his or her phone at the back of the courtroom this week.

James Lees
Research and Communications Officer

Aviation Environment Federation
2nd Floor, 40 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UD
t: +44 (0) 20 3102 1509



Open email to the aviation industry and Government

13.3.2015  (name of writer supplied)

This email is referenced to the increase in noise and low height of planes experienced over the West of London despite the reassurance by the aviation industry and its “controllers” that it is not!

I am gravely concerned at the level of anger which is rising in the blogs, tweets, Facebook and other social media as I am seeing increasing desperation within these groups. People are genuinely suffering noise disturbance, sleep disruption, disruption to concentration, interference with normal activities – and a high degree of stress and depression. These efffects are not imaginary. They are very real indeed.

If this matter doesn’t get resolved soon with a very good explanation I can see even the most moderate and respectable members of the community losing the plot and undertaking actions that are out of character with their positions in society.

I am really, really concerned and don’t know what to do to resolve the disparity between the lies we are being told and the truth, to calm people down.

Believe it or not I am the voice of moderation, but it has got to the point where people are telling me that writing, emails and passive campaigns aren’t getting anyone anywhere and I have to agree with the sentiment – if not the proposals.

I have increased concerns regarding the effect this action by the aviation industry including, I suspect the CAA, DfT and NATS, is having. And am utterly dismayed by the apparent lack of concern or expedited action by senior politicians and councillors.

The effects of noise are seriously being underestimated by which ever employees / officials are responsible for this trial, its creation and implementation. They need to be held to account.

We. the public. haven’t got a clue and it appears senior politicians, including those at the DfT apparently, are also unaware of what is going on.

We are perpetually being told by Heathrow and the CAA that everything is back to normal which is an obvious, crass and blatant lie.

I am being told that the onslaught of noise caused by plane after plane after plane, following the exact same route into and out of Heathrow, going on over my house at the moment is a return to normality and in my imagination.

Anyone putting out this misinformation in the belief it is true has clearly had something akin to a lobotomy – rendering them suitable only for a career in customer service on a complaints line for a dispassionate corporation.

Heathrow’s operations are having serious side effects of increasing pollution, both in terms of noise and fumes, to an ever widening population of people who want no part of this business in their lives and receive no benefit from their actions.

If this is the future of aviation then God help us all – because it won’t be worth living in much of the south-east of England.

If that is the price of (theoretically) increasing GDP then we will need to use the money to increase the number of doctors and hospitals to deal with the stress,  mental health and respiratory problems arising.  A very negative effect.

The people or persons responsible for this noise onslaught need to bow their heads in shame at the mental and physical stress that they are causing to an ever increasing population.

I hope the salaries they are paid to undertake their individual contributions to this noise justifies in their own minds, the misery and suffering of all those affected by what they are doing.

I couldn’t justify it no matter what salary they offered.



Runaway Runway Needs A Rethink

Visualising the members of the Airports Commission, settling down to consider The Runway Problem now that the consultation period is over, it helps me to mentally transpose them into a smoke-filled office in Whitehall during WW1.

There they sat, puffing away around a large wooden table, deciding how much tobacco to send the boys on the front line.  Of course the mandarins, then, had no idea that perhaps the most joyous component of the rations the troops would receive – intended to cheer and sustain – was deadly. The realisation decades later that cigarettes cause cancer does not condemn those decision makers. They sought to provide the lads in the trenches with a little comfort amidst the slaughter.

But when history looks back at Sir Howard Davies, Professor Ricky Burdett, Professor Dame Julia King, Vivienne Cox and Sir John Armitt in a similar scene, I’m not sure their decisions will be remembered so indulgently.

The WW1 strategists had an unfair advantage: they didn’t know about smoking’s link to cancer. The Airport Commission’s deliberations, by contrast, are set against an entirely informed backdrop. We know that emissions from fossil fuels are harmful to the environment. That time is running out. That carbon use needs to be drastically reduced, and right away. The moral obligation to employ radical thinking falls to the Airports Commission with immediate effect.

Ok, so their brief didn’t come with a big heavy tome of scientific research stretching back decades, but this information is freely available.

The Commissioners know that under current law, the UK only has until 2050 to cut carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels. And yet the insuperable need for additional runway capacity seems to be blindly accepted as a fait accompli.

In fact when the Commissioners – an illustrious group of professors, knights, development experts, engineers, and the UK’s Low Carbon Business Ambassador – were first drawn together in September 2012, they were asked to address both whether we should expand airport capacity (year 1 of its work) and – if so – how and where (year 2).

Cait Hewitt from the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) says that while the timetable suggests a particular outcome, “the Commission was in theory supposed to have the right to conclude that we shouldn’t build new capacity.”

The terms of reference for the Committee’s work mention the environment several times, with the Commission required to “take into account the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits,” of each scheme, as well as their operational deliverability.

But aviation has a funny habit of making a special case for itself, and slipping through the gaps in terms of climate policy making. Within current frameworks, aviation is allowed emissions 120% higher than 1990 levels. To compensate for aviation’s privileged position, carbon emissions in the rest of the economy need to be cut by 85%, a level regarded by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), as “at the limits of what is feasible”.

Hewitt says that “it seems the future Government would have two options: either they’d need to focus on restricting demand – by introducing very high new ticket taxes for example – or they’d need to manage supply by imposing restrictions on the use of existing capacity. Since Government policy is to support regional airport growth, it’s very hard to see that happening.

“Either way, all the Commission has really done so far is to make a very long argument for redistributing to London the passenger growth that might have happened at other airports around the UK, because that’s the only way that a new runway could possibly be compatible with the Climate Change Act,” Hewitt adds.

Greenpeace UK says that building another new runway can only be made to appear economically viable by ignoring the bulk of the carbon costs, which is exactly what the Davies Commission is doing.

“We can safely ignore anyone claiming that a new runway might be beneficial to the UK economy until they have answers for where the extra carbon savings will come from, and how they will be affordable,” says Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr. “At a time when even developing countries like China are seeking ways to manage emissions from aviation, the Davies Commission’s current approach, and the political view that short-term business needs should trump everything, is wilfully myopic. This is not what real leadership looks like, on the climate or any issue of real economic importance”.

Real leadership. Ouch. But can we really expect this of Sir Howard Davies and colleagues, when all other bodies have passed the environmental buck in the runways debate.

It’s a really hard gig, being the meerkats of our generation. Spotting danger and responding accordingly, for the global good. Daring to say out loud that no further runway should go ahead until aviation is decarbonized, however impossible this concept may seem.
“Smart of the current Government, having promised not to approve new runways during this Parliament, to set the deadline for the Commission to report straight after the election, leaving parties free to reposition themselves if they want to,” says Hewitt.

Sadly for environmentalists, the economic arguments against expansion are shot down even before they have a chance to fly. It doesn’t seem to matter that Heathrow is mostly foreign owned [Spain, Qatar, Quebec, Singapore, the US and China] and has been found to aggressively minimise payment of corporation tax. As does Gatwick. And that aviation fuel is tax free. And airline tickets are exempt from VAT. Which loses the exchequer billions of pounds every year, thanks to some pretty impressive lobbying by the aviation industry.

Head of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge reiterated comments she made in October last year that “ministers should put Gatwick and Heathrow under pressure to pay corporation tax as the bidding process for airport expansion reaches its conclusion”.

Hodge restated that airports made a fortune from their UK activities and that “for them to pretend they are only in it for the benefit of the UK economy is a touch hypocritical.”

But this doesn’t register in the debate. Nor does it seem to matter that the Commission’s own modelling of the direct economic impacts of a new runway are net-negative under some of its forecasts, even before accounting for full carbon costs.

John Stewart, head of pressure group HACAN, which campaigns against Heathrow expansion, says that if laws were changed and these taxes and VAT were paid, fares would go up and demand would be managed, obviating the need for new runways.

“Some of the underlying issues have been sidelined by the Davies process, and there have been no real questions asked about the issue of managing demand through getting rid of tax breaks for the aviation industry. Many of the climate change assumptions Davies is working on have not been challenged. If these were included it would be a game changer”.

Can we expect the Airports Commission to think differently and deliver a verdict that is so way off the growth trajectory that politicians and business thirst for?

Climate expert Dr Alice Bows-Larkin from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research recognises that meeting the UK’s international commitments to the 2°C characterisation of ‘dangerous climate change’ poses huge challenges for policymakers, businesses and wider civil society.

“Being locked into a fossil fuel infrastructure means that a growing economy hampers efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Cutting CO2 in line with 2°C demands tough and brave decision-making, that, in the short-term, may not appear financially ‘optimal’ or sensible.  However, if we consider the systemic and irreversible impacts of climate change, short-term finance must surely give way to long-term economic prosperity.

“Until policymakers put more emphasis on taking decisions that bring positive benefits in the long-term, rather than policies that make temporary gains, they will be unwilling to implement policies that dampen growth in high carbon consuming sectors, such as the aviation sector  – with the UK prosperity ultimately suffering the consequences of their short-sightedness”.





The stubborn 30% who remain opposed to a 3rd runway could be politically more important than those who support it

January 26, 2015 (By John Stewart, Chair of Hacan)

So, how much support is there for a third runway?

Heathrow – understandably from their perspective – made a big deal of this week’s Populus Poll which saw support edge up to just over 50% –

They have now crafted huge adverts around the findings.

Heathrow neighbours ad Jan 2015

The text reads: “More local people support than oppose Heathrow expansion. In a recent poll, 50% of those living around the airport were in favour of expansion and 33% opposed.

The reliability of the Populus polls has been questioned because of the way in which they have been conducted –  – but the key stat may be found in a 2007 Populus Poll.  The findings then were very similar to the results of this week’s poll.  It showed 50% in favour and 30% against –

Nothing much has changed since 2007 and critically around a third of people questioned remain opposed to Heathrow expansion.  Across London and the South East that adds up to over one million people.  And that’s a number to worry any Government.  It is a stubborn block of opposition that refuses to be swayed by Heathrow’s advertising blitz or Back Heathrow’s expensive leaflet drops.

I think, though, what Heathrow has achieved is bringing into sharper focus the support there is for a third runway.  That support – some of it active; a lot of it passive – has always been there.  It was simply not part of the narrative 10 years ago.

However, I suspect, when the next Government comes to consider the findings of the Airports Commission, it will be more interested in assessing the level of opposition when coming to a view about the political deliverability of a third runway that how much support it has.  It is the way of politics.

It is likely that a third of residents will continue to oppose expansion, some of them vehemently. As will the array of environmental groups. They were an important part of the coalition which saw off the proposals for a third runway last time round. And Heathrow has not sought to engage with them, nor Back Heathrow to influence them.

Most of the green groups have gone quiet since the third runway was dropped in 2010. Climate Change is their issue. They are not really interested in noise or flight paths. My soundings suggest they will be back if a new runway is given an amber light after the Election.

Heathrow understands there is little they can offer the environmental groups, so have not spent resources trying to influence them. Heathrow has concentrated its energies in try to offer residents and local authorities a better deal in terms of noise mitigation measures, jobs and compensation. But, so far, it has not shifted the million plus people in London and the South East who remain firmly opposed to expansion.




New south-east runway would be damaging to regional airports and would exacerbate the North-South divide

8.1.2015 (By John Byng, GACC Vice-Chairman)

Many people have pointed out that permitting a new runway in the South East (and allowing it to be fully used) would require growth at regional airports to be limited in order to remain within carbon emissions targets for UK aviation.  There is not space within the target both for a full runway, as well as the reasonable growth expectations and forecasts of other airports.

Clearly this would be bad news for economic development in the regions, which the government claims is a priority – but there is a risk that many MPs will say this carbon issue is “poppycock” and should be ignored. And the Airports Commission has chosen merely to accept assurances that a runway can be added.  It has not given the issue sufficient priority to resolve the dilemma of how to fit a new runway within the carbon target for aviation.

In my view we should therefore look at the economic consequences of a new runway in the south east on other airports. Again the Commission has not yet addressed this issue fully.

In recent years Heathrow has been virtually full and growth has been satisfied by extra flights from Gatwick and, to a lesser extent, from other airports. This indicates that the overwhelming demand from airlines is for more flights at Heathrow in spite of the much higher charges there.

One of the factors influencing this demand is the desire of foreign visitors to fly to Heathrow. They perceive it to be the most convenient airport for London and the UK.

Gatwick has been gradually winning more traffic (because Heathrow cannot easily accommodate more flights) but is perceived to be the second best option by foreign visitors.

It was on the basis of winning the Heathrow overflow trade that Gatwick’s most recent Master-plan (published 3 years ago) envisaged growth from 35 million passengers a year to 40 or 45 million on the single runway. It was also the basis on which the present owners at Gatwick, GIP, bought the airport. They intended to benefit from the fact that Heathrow is full by providing extra terminal capacity at Gatwick, but no expensive extra runway.

It was only when they were faced with the prospect that Heathrow might, after all, be allowed to build another runway that they put in a bid for an extra runway at Gatwick.

But what is the consequence of the Heathrow and Gatwick dominance for British holiday makers?

Firstly a great many of them live in the over-crowded South East region and are glad to have large international airports at their disposal.

Secondly, because the foreign visitors come from all over the world, Heathrow and Gatwick are able to provide a wider choice of destinations to domestic passengers than regional airports can provide. But by concentrating on Heathrow and Gatwick the airlines are forcing a great many British holiday makers to begin and end their holidays by driving considerable distances to Heathrow and Gatwick.

This can be a high price to pay for a wider choice of destinations (and how many holiday destinations do people need anyway?). In recent years 25% of British passengers at Heathrow have come from outside the region and 20% at Gatwick. Their journeys to the airport and parking charges often outweigh air fare savings and contribute a great deal to local road congestion and air pollution.

What would be the consequence of not building a new runway?

The airlines would be forced to use the regional airports that they have been neglecting. The regions’ airports have spare capacity equivalent to at least six new runways. They could cater for local passengers and so relieve many of them of the journey to Heathrow and Gatwick.

By doing so, capacity would be freed up and made available at Heathrow and Gatwick for more foreign visitors – which is what the aviation industry says is so important for the UK economy.

And developing the regional airports would make them more attractive to foreign visitors too. Employment would be provided where it is needed (in the regions) rather than where it is not (the South East – in most of which there is little unemployment). Operating from more airports would increase costs for the airlines (partly offset by lower landing charges) but this should not be regarded as an over-riding issue; the North South divide is a more serious economic problem for the UK as a whole.

There is general opposition to economic management – attempting to influence demand. But in this case the cost of redistributing the demand is zero whereas the cost of giving the airlines (note, not the passengers) what they want is very considerable.

By contrast with expanding use of the regional airports, building a new south east runway would mean unemployment in the regions would remain untouched (and costly, socially and economically) .

But expansion in the South East, where there is low unemployment and already considerable difficulty in building enough new homes, would inevitably bring more inward migration and so require more roads, rail infrastructure, hospitals, schools, housing etc in a region that is already over-crowded and over-heated economically.

We need to make the case that regional airports should be allowed to help satisfy the needs of a growing aviation sector, and that any extra runway in the South East would prevent this from happening.

John Byng


An open letter to the people of Wandsworth from the people of Gatwick

3.11.2014 (GACC)

Thank you. Thank you for sending us the noisy aircraft which keep you awake at night. Thank you for sending us the planes that fill the sky during the day. So kind!

Your Council has voted unanimously to support a second runway at Gatwick. So kind! Your Council is organising two public meetings, one of which is to be addressed by the senior management of Gatwick who will tell you what a splendid airport Gatwick is.

You are lucky. Gatwick can’t find time to speak to local residents – refused to attend half a dozen meetings recently.

You apparently don’t care about us. You don’t worry about the 50,000 people around Gatwick who will be affected by aircraft noise from a new runway. Bugger them you say, so long as we don’t get the planes. So kind!

You don’t care about the Sussex countryside to be destroyed by the huge number of new houses for the Gatwick expansion. Never seen a green field? We will show you one sometime!

You don’t care about the damage to the Gatwick Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You don’t care about the historic villages whose character will be ruined and whose houses devalued by new Gatwick flight paths. So long as you don’t get more aircraft over Battersea Park, you couldn’t care less.

You don’t care that eighteen listed buildings would be demolished by a new Gatwick runway. So long as no more planes come over Putney, to hell with the heritage!

Welcome to Wandsworth, NIMBY capital of Europe. Nowhere else in Europe do the citizens vote unanimously to bring misery to their neighbours. Not in My Backyard should be inscribed as your Borough motto.

If you want to save your souls, try expressing support for the RSPB, WWF, Friends of the Earth, HACAN and the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign who all campaign for no new runway. Not at Heathrow. Not at Gatwick.

Why? Because the number of passengers per plane is increasing. And because if we
wish to take climate change seriously a new runway is just plane irresponsible.

But, sorry, we forgot: your council has no concern for the next generation. So long as you don’t get any more aircraft over Putney the next generation can get stuffed.

GACC. 3 November 2014



The thorny question of flight paths

October 2014

John Stewart, Chair HACAN

Speculation about new runways and new airports will continue to dominate the headlines over the next couple of years.  But what the aviation industry decides to do about flight paths may have the bigger impact on people’s quality of life.

The UK is facing the biggest changes to its flight paths in half a century.  The same thing is happening across Europe and in America.  It is being driven by new technology.  The technology now exists to guide planes much more precisely when they are landing and taking off.  The industry sees this as a chance to make more efficient use of airspace, enable more planes to use its airports and reduce the fuel burn and emissions from each aircraft.

In recent months flight path protests have dominated the headlines.  Gatwick and Heathrow airports have been trialing new operational techniques and new flight paths.  Birmingham has introduced aircraft to new areas and London City is proposing to concentrate its flight paths on narrow corridors.

For residents, flight paths are all-important.  At airports where flight paths do not impact on communities objections melt away.  Copenhagen Airport, for example, doesn’t have a protest group simply because it doesn’t have a flight path problem.

For most green organisations, focused on climate change, flight paths have historically been of little interest.  Their prime concern has been to stop expansion and, in particular, the building of new runways and new airports.  For these organisations the recent protests about flight paths seem to have come from nowhere.

Residents groups, by contrast, have focused on, and tried influence, the development of flight path policy for many years.  It is their bread and butter campaigning.  They were aware some years ago of the developing European plans to ‘make more efficient use of airspace’.

Much of the aviation industry believes that concentrating flight paths enables it to operate more effectively.  Over five years ago alarm bells started ringing within organizations like my own, HACAN.  Concentration of the Heathrow flight paths would have simply meant the creation of noise ghettos across London, with hundreds of thousands of people threatened with a plane every 90 seconds right throughout the day.

To prevent that happening, we actively set out to lobby for the concept of respite.  It was one of the key messages we brought to ministers, civil servants and to the Airports Commission.  We even, somewhat controversially, teamed up with Heathrow Airport and NATS to test respite in some early morning trials.  We felt we got a result when we saw the Government’s aviation policy and the Airports Commission had officially recognized the central importance of respite.

It may be a controversial thing to say but, for many of our residents, meaningful respite is more important than stopping a third runway.  Many, I’m pretty sure, would accept a new runway if they believed that, together with respite, it would result in an improved noise climate.  I don’t believe that is possible because a third runway would mean so many more planes over the skies of London and the South East.  But it does emphasise how central flight paths are to residents’ thinking.

The Department for Transport does not make respite mandatory.  For some airports, particularly those where few communities are overflown, an element of concentration may be more appropriate.

However, respite, particularly if it may mean the sharing out of flight paths to new areas, is not straightforward.  The protests in Warnham, near Gatwick, came about because the village, previously plane-free, was suddenly deluged with aircraft.  The Ascot area, near Heathrow, always had some planes but, during the Heathrow trials, the numbers increased dramatically.  Ascot still gets nowhere near as many planes each hour as some other areas around Heathrow but that is irrelevant to the residents: for them the increase has been too much.  The protests at Warnham and Ascot were entirely understandable.

The green organizations see other problems with flight path sharing.  Some worry that if the airport is able to disperse the flight paths – and therefore the noise – too widely, it could make it easier for airports to bring in more planes. (This of course could not happen at Heathrow where flight numbers are capped).

What is certain is that is that the industry will want to use the new technology it now has available to make more effective use of airspace.  I think only citizens taking to the streets would stop that and that’s unlikely.  It will mean flight path changes.

In my view what is required is the right framework to be in place to allow these changes to work not just for the industry but also for residents.  In some areas it is easy to see where that could work.  For nearly 20 years I’ve had emails from people across London pleading for a break from the constant noise; actively wanting respite.  Yet it is clearly unacceptable to dump scores of flights on places like Warnham and Ascot.

I suspect part of the problem is that the aviation industry has not been subject historically to the planning controls and procedures that apply to other noisy developments.  The Civil Aviation Act 1985 exempts aviation from the laws that regulate other sources of noise.  In its place is very little.  Although the Department for Transport has to approve changed flight paths, it is adopting a very hands-off approach.

Much is left to the attitude of individual airports.  Although Heathrow and Gatwick have taken a lot of flak recently, they may, through many trials and tribulations, come up with something useful for residents.  By contrast, London City is not even trying. It is simply going for concentration, without even informing the communities affected about what is in store for them:

Government needs to find a way of ensuring that residents are not left at the mercy of airports like London City.  That’s why I think something like an Independent Noise Regulator is worth exploring.  Other campaigners don’t agree.  I suspect the Government may be hoping it can sit back and let the aviation industry sort of the flight path changes.  I suspect the proposed changes are too big to allow that to happen; the attitudes of the different airports too variable; and the issue is simply too important for local residents.



Labour fixes Election line on airport expansion

Labour seems have got its line fixed for the General Election. 

  • More airport capacity essential to Britain’s economic success.
  • The need, therefore, to take a decision shortly after the Election.
  • Say nothing until Davies comes out.  Won’t necessarily endorse the Davies recommendations.
  • Mind not made up between a 3rd runway at Heathrow or a 2nd one at Gatwick.
  • Environmental considerations will be factored into the decision.

Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, spelt out the line in his key note speech to the Labour Conference: “Whatever the outcome of the Howard Davies review into airport capacity, we must resolve to finally make a decision on airport capacity in London and the South-East — expanding capacity while taking into account the environmental impact.  No more kicking into the long-grass, but taking the right decisions for Britain’s long-term future.

Mary Creagh, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said something very similar in her speech: “More airport capacity is vital to Britain’s economic success, but David Cameron was too weak to deliver it. So he kicked it into the long grass. That led to Boris Johnson’s fantasy island airport …. The one that would have closed Heathrow, destroyed jobs and put London at risk of flooding. £5 million of public money wasted on his vanity project, but it was never about the country’s future. …. The next Labour Government will make a swift decision on airport expansion in the national interest.”

At the fringe meetings I attended, Hilary Benn, Andrew Adonis and David Lammy came out with much the same line, though both Adonis and Lammy are thought to be a Heathrow supporters.  The only open Heathrow support I heard of was from Margaret Hodge but since the days of the big battles about road building twenty years ago Hodge has had a reputation of being blind to environmental impacts of these kind of projects and shouldn’t be seen as typical in the Party.

Labour is trying to reassure big business it will not dither but is keenly aware of the environmental downsides of new runways, and, in particular, the toxic noise question at Heathrow.  Mary Creagh was kind enough at one of the fringes to praise the work HACAN had done on noise.

But climate change is emerging as a clear consideration in Labour’s policy-making.  I went to the SERA Rally where shadow ministers as diverse as Caroline Flint and Chukka Umunna stressed that climate change was central to the policy-making process under Ed Miliband.  The Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s advisers, argue that one new runway would not breach the country’s CO 2 targets but it is clear that, unless technology was to improve by leaps and bounds over the next 20 years, an extra runway at Gatwick or Heathrow would severely curtail the scope for growth at the other UK airports.

Labour seems to have decided that is a risk worth taking.  It believes there is a need to build a new runway in the South East.  Can it deliver?  The only one of the questions I asked at the fringe meetings that was skated over was on deliverability: “Is a third runway at Heathrow politically deliverable”.    


Flight path changes could create nationwide protests


Blog by John Stewart

It will be the ‘F’ word that will be on everybody’s lips over the next few years.  ‘Flightpaths’.  The big changes to flight paths which are expected over the next five or six years could trigger protests on a scale that could exceed the opposition to any proposed new runway.  In their scope, they could be more like the ‘anti-roads’ protests of the 1990s.

The aviation industry is undertaking the most far-reaching changes to airspace across the UK for 60 years.  The driver behind it is something called SESAR.  It is an EU-scheme to make flight paths across Europe more efficient.  The industry would like simpler, more concentrated approaches and departures to increase capacity and reduce CO2 emissions.

Add in the fact that that the technology now exists for aircraft to be guided much more precisely and there is the potential for significant changes to flight paths.

However, the industry knows changes to flight paths can be toxic.  Look at the extent of the protests, and the degree of upset and anger that the current Gatwick ADNID trial has generated from villages that never expected to be overflown and from places which have seen a big increase in flights.

But it is changes to the Heathrow flight paths that are making the industry particularly nervous.  It is the reason why Gatwick and London City are being looked at first and why Heathrow is very tentatively experimenting with new take-off techniques.

What will worry Heathrow in particular is that the consultation on its flight path changes, expected around 2016/17, could coincide with the decision of the next Government as to whether or not to back a third runway.

However, the flight path issue will not be confined to London and the South East, though it there that the greatest pressure for change is coming from.  It potentially affects the whole country.  And this is why the protest could go nationwide.  It is quite possible to envisage a national network of the newly-overflown or badly-affected emerging containing lots of angry local residents.

The industry will try to forestall or minimize such protests by talking up the “winners” from any proposed changes.  And there will be winners.  Some areas will get less or no noise if the flights become more concentrated.  But I suspect this will off-set by the raw anger of those who find themselves living in the ‘noise ghettos’, particularly if they are significantly overflown for the first time.

The industry is looking to introduce measures to alleviate the pain of those who will be in the noise ghettos.  It is a key reason why they are looking at respite periods, steeper descent and take-off approaches and other operational measures.

The jury is very much out as to whether the industry will be able to do enough to pacify the noise ghettos.  If not the ghettos, like ghettos around the world, are likely to explode.  Just look at what has happened in Frankfurt when the flight paths were re-jigged when the 4th runway was built.  Nearly three years after is opened in 2011, thousands of people still occupy the terminal every Monday night in protest against the new flight paths.

A new runway will create protest.  But, unless it follows the pattern of the Heathrow 3rd runway last time round and becomes an iconic environmental struggle, it will be confined to one area.  The flight path changes, by contrast, have the potential to generate nationwide protest.



Heathrow still have a mountain to climb

Blog by John Stewart

Heathrow still have a mountain to climb.  Today’s launch of their revised plan for a third runway  link shows they understand the need to pull out all the stops to make it politically deliverable.  But it also shows the extent of the task they face.

Their last attempt to get a new runway ended in failure  link  Since then, they have changed their name and their tactics.

The new tactics were to the fore in today’s announcement.

There was a clear recognition that, unless there are enough “goodies” for voters living under the flight paths and around Heathrow, governments will continue to be reluctant to commit to a 3rd runway in case history repeats itself and they fail to deliver.

The climate impacts of a new runway are important – and the airport’s claims about CO2 need be assessed to see if they stand up – but it is the proposals to deal with noise and community destruction that most politicians will be interested in.

The offer to people in the 750 homes that Heathrow estimates will be demolished (down from 950 last time because the alignment of the new runway has been moved a little further south) is more generous than before:  the value of the house plus 25%; payment of relocation costs and any stamp duty.  It will be a tempting offer to many residents who have faced years of blight and uncertainty.  But what of those left behind yards from the new runway?    The immediate reaction we are getting is the Heathrow will need to do a lot more to quell local opposition to a third runway.  The quality of life in whole communities in places like Sipson, Harlington, Longford and West Drayton, as well as the village in the eye of the storm – Harmondsworth – will be changed forever.  With so much to lose, expect a big fight back.

The attempt to deal with noise for people living under the flight paths further afield is much more sophisticated than last time.  Quieter planes, improved operational practices and more respite periods are promised.  Runway alternation is guaranteed – long gone is any thought of all-day flying on any runway.  And there is an acknowledgement that aircraft noise is a problem outside the discredited 57 noise contour.  All this is welcome – and, indeed most of the proposals need not be dependent on a new runway – but could I convince our members in Hounslow, Ealing, Richmond, Windsor, Clapham, Brockley and Tower Hamlets that their noise climate will be less disturbing with a 3rdrunway and its extra 260,000 flights a year?   They would tell me it would need a miracle.  And, so far, Heathrow have not proved they can deliver that miracle.

And then there’s Heathrow M25 problem.  Heathrow has said that 600 metres would go into a tunnel with a runway built over the top.  Possible in engineering terms but messy, disruptive and costly.  Any government would want to know how much it would be expected to cough up.

 Heathrow has tried to show it can deal with the air pollution and traffic problems around the airport through a mix of a congestion charge on cars using the airport and improved public transport links.  The proposals are proof that Heathrow is addressing these problems with a seriousness that was missing previously.  Only time will tell whether they have done enough to convince the Airports Commission and any future government to take a punt on a third runway.

 And all the time Gatwick – and also still Boris Island– are breathing down Heathrow’s neck.  Heathrow’s strongest argument has always been its economic case, principally the fact that, with a new runway, it could have direct links to around 40 more destinations (although all these destinations can already be reached with just one change).  However it still hasn’t been able to shake off the challenge of the other airports.

 Liverpool, with a new manager and a new style of play, fell just short of winning the League title this season.  Like Liverpool, Heathrow are adopting a much more creative approach.  Whether they can do enough to persuade politicians that a third runway is politically deliverable is still open to real doubt.  The top prize may remain out of reach.


.”A work of art: the art of distortion” – the Back Heathrow newsletter

Posted on 

by John Stewart

It’s got ‘em talking.  And fuming.  Back Heathrow’s latest news-sheet and questionnaire.  I didn’t get one dropped through my door but many of our supporters did and they sent me copies.

The newsletter is a work of art.  The art of not quite telling it as it is.  Take the front page “Hillingdon Council want Thousands of Houses on Airport”.  What message does that convey to you?  The clear implication is that Hillingdon wants the airport to shut.  They have never said that.  It leader, Ray Puddiford, has merely said that, if an Estuary Airport opened and Heathrow had to close, there would be the opportunity for the land to be used for housing and new businesses.  Back Heathrow turns that into “Hillingdon Council Leader Ray Puddiford: Ungrateful – Shutting down Heathrow represents a ‘remarkable opportunity’.”

 The sleight of hand goes on.  It quotes from the report commissioned by threeLondonboroughs which indicates that thousands of jobs are at risk if Heathrow were to close.  It conveniently overlooks another key finding of the report that the impact of a second runway at Gatwick would have a ‘negligible’ impact on employment at Heathrow.

 And then there are “local residents” who are quoted.  Steve Ostrowski may live in Hillingdon but what we are not told is that he also works at the airport.  And then there is Gary Dixon who says he’s “lived near the airport for years.”  Local Hillingdon people tell me his area is not impacted by planes.  Not forgetting Shaun Brimacombe from Harlingon who asks “If noise does affect them then why did they choose to live next to a major international airport?”  Back Heathrow’s bosom buddies atHeathrowAirportknow full well that there are people distraught by aircraft noise living 20 miles from the airport.  They didn’t “choose to live next to a major international airport.”  They don’t get a quote.

Although we don’t share it, HACAN recognizes there is an argument to be made for the expansion ofHeathrowAirportbut this news-sheet does nothing to advance it.

You can contact Back Heathrow at Premier House, 50-52 Cross Lances Rd, TW3 2AAor by email or via their website:

 Thinking of filling in the survey?  Don’t risk it!  You could be quoted out of context in their next news-sheet.  Better to say nothing.  Return an empty envelope.  It’s Freepost!



IPCC report warns starkly of climate risks – while easyJet plans ever more growth in dirt-cheap flying

I wonder if Carolyn McCall still reads the Guardian.  If she does, the easyJet boss can’t have failed to spot the fact that her company released its plans for significant expansion at Luton Airport on the very day her old paper splashed the latest IPCC report on climate change across its front page.

The IPCC report paints a grim picture of the impact of climate change, particularly on the poor world.  Meanwhile McCall, a former CEO of the Guardian Media Group, plans for yet more short-haul flights.

Today’s Luton announcement follows hard on the heels of last week’s news that easyJet expects to take over one of Gatwick’s terminals.

We hear a lot from easyJet about the fact it uses the latest state-of-the-art ‘green’ planes.  Maybe it does but the claim is almost laughably irrelevant when compared to the heart-rending statistics in today’s IPCC report.

Make no mistake about it:  Ms McCall heads up a dirty business.

Aviation is the fastest-growing source of CO2 in the world.  And McCall operates at the sleaziest end of the market.  Most of her flights are not facilitating business deals or enabling people to visit new continents; many of them are catering for second homes owners, city breaks and hedonistic stag weekends in the likes of  Paris (Paris from £33) and Prague. (Prague from £35)

Beers drunk on Wenceslas Square at the expense of crops destroyed by drought as the Sahara encroaches on African villages; a holiday home in the Dordogne while the shanty towns of Bangladesh drown in floods; a bit of festive shopping in the German Christmas markets ignoring the pressure on global food crop yields.  Only a tiny % of the world’s population flies in one year.  Amongst the 95% or so who don’t fly are the communities that will be hardest hit by climate change.

The gaudy street-corner operations of easyJet and Ryanair, beckoning the customer with cheap fares, are less the product of dazzling management skills than the lucky recipients of the perks of tax-free fuel and VAT-free tickets the the air travel industry enjoys.

The Government should use the findings of the IPCC report to introduce a fair tax on flying so that the likes of McCall and O’Leary are prevented from doing further damage to the planet and its people.    And that goes not only for the UK government, but for governments world wide.


Behind the slogans, there was little of substance in Gatwick’s latest PR flutter 

27.3.2014 (AirportWatch blog)

It was slick.  It was smart.  It was launched in the Shard.

And it was more-or-less completely ignored by the serious press the next day.  They saw through Gatwick’s PR machine.

Behind the slogans, there was little of substance that stood up to scrutiny.

Gatwick based its case that it should get a new runway in preference to Heathrow on the fact that the predicted growth in air travel would come mostly from short-haul flights to Europe rather than long-distance flights to and from the world’s emerging economies.  It argued that it was ideally suited to cater for this market as short-haul carriers would never fly from Heathrow because of the its high land changes – a claim now debunked by its golden child, easyJet: 

In essence Gatwick was saying its new hub, concentrating on low-cost, short-haul flights, with (hopefully) a few long-distance flights from the emerging economies thrown in, would rival Heathrow’s claims.  Convinced?  The Times, Guardian, Telegraph and Independent weren’t.  They gave the launch next-to-no coverage.

The Airports Commission has made it clear that new runways are not about the here and now, but about the future; about 2030 and beyond.  What we can expect is that there will be a much increased demand from the emerging economies of the world.  What we are much less certain about is the future of short-haul flights in Europe.  The European Union’s Transport White Paper states that “by 2050 the majority of medium-distance passenger transport should go by rail”   

Today easyJet Ryanair may rule the airwaves.  Tomorrow is will be Air China and Air India .  Gatwick by then will have become yesterday’s airport.



Gatwick’s showy (very light on facts) website for their new PR campaign, which they are calling – somewhat pretentiously – “Gatwick Obviously” is at





Nantes ablaze

Blog by  John Stewart

On Saturday Nantes was ablaze. The anger at the proposed new airport outside this city in Western France boiled over: Up to 60,000 people took part in what was largely a peaceful demonstration.  YouTube link  The local campaign group ACIPA say that the tension rose when the police refused to allow the march to take the normal route through the city. When part of the march tried to do so it “faced violent police repression shot with rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades”:

I have been to Nantes several times over last few years (although wasn’t there on Saturday). The campaign has become a cause célèbre in France. It has “support committees” in over 200 towns and cities across France and Belgium. On a regular basis each committee lobbies and demonstrates in its own area. Over 60 coaches arrived in Nantes on Saturday with supporters from across the nation.

During the last Presidential elections four “peasant” farmers, whose land was threatened by the new airport, went on hunger strike for a month. They were visited by most of the presidential candidates. All, except for Hollande and Sarkozy, came out against the airport.

The profile of the campaign wasn’t always so high. I first met the campaigners in 2008 when five desperate farmers drove through the night to promote their case at a major Heathrow rally. They subsequently modelled much of their campaign on the successful fight against the 3rd runway. In particular, they built up the widest possible alliance of support.

The proposed new airport would be built around 15 miles from the city of Nantes in a landscape dotted with small farms and attractive villages. It is the classic French countryside, but without the British and their second homes!

The rationale for the new airport has never been entirely clear. Nantes already has a single runway airport which is under-used. The regional government argues that the new airport would regenerate the area. This is hotly contested by the campaigners who commissioned their own report which challenged the government’s economic case:  They argue that the new airport has more to do with boosting the egos of the local politicians – including the former Mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Aryault who was made Prime Minister under Hollande – than beefing up the economy.

It remains unclear how much support there may be from people in Nantes living under flight path to the current airport for the new airport. Certainly, it is not visible. In contrast, the opposition has mushroomed over the last six years. Local people have been joined by a range of political and environmental organizations as well as the direct action campaigners, many of whom live in tents and tree houses in a local wooded area known as the ZAD.

There have been tensions from time to time between the local community and the direct action activists in the ZAD but last winter the ZAD won huge respect from other parts of the coalition when, in freezing cold conditions, they defied attempts by authorities to remove them.

It is probably impossible at this stage to know what will happen next in Nantes. But I think it is part of an emerging pattern: it is becoming increasingly difficult to build major new projects anywhere in Western Europe. The Nantes campaigners have links with those opposing the HS2 high-speed link in Britain ( through what is known as the Campaign against Useless Imposed Mega-Projects. It is what is says on the tin! It includes the NO-TAV movement against high-speed rail in Northern Italy and Save Rosia Montana, the Romanian campaign against a vast cyanide-mined gold extraction project in Western Transylvanian. Last year the Nantes campaigners hosted the Useless Imposed Mega-Projects’ annual meeting.

Iain Martin wrote in the Daily Telegraph (14/1/09) about the Heathrow anti-third campaign: “the coalition assembled outside Parliament is extraordinarily wide. It runs from radical eco-warriors to middle-class mothers in west London, hedge fund managers in Richmond, to pensioners and parents in Brentford”. The links now being made by opponents of mega-projects are in some ways an extension of this. The anarchist on the streets of Nantes has little in common with the millionaire executive in the Chilterns…….except they are both passionately against a mega-project.

Certain conditions seem to need to be present for a mega-project to attract opposition from very disparate people.

• There is a real doubt whether the mega-project is essential for the economy. The economic case for the new Nantes Airport, HS2, the Rumanian gold-mine and the third runway at Heathrow are all hotly contested.

• The mega-project is site-based, i.e. there is land, homes, countryside or communities to defend.

• The mega-project is attracting significant local opposition. If the local opposition is non-existent or small, the essential first building block is missing.

• The mega-project must attract outside opposition. Nantes has become a magnet that has drawn a diverse range of protesters each there for a differ reason: environmentalist; anti-capitalist etc.

The new Nantes airport proposed for this unfashionable part of France has become the classic ‘useless’ mega-project. I suspect Heathrow Airport – and probably also the promoters of HS2 – will be looking closely at what happens next at Nantes.



What percentage of the population is deeply disturbed by aircraft noise?

HACAN blog by  John Stewart

Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a big hit with their 1983 song Two Tribes to War.  It is a bit like that with aircraft noise.  Not so much war, perhaps; just mutual incomprehension.  People who are deeply disturbed by aircraft noise just can’t understand why their next-door neighbour hardly hears the planes.  And the neighbour dismisses the noise sufferer next door as either cranky or using the noise to cover up their real concern: the price of their house.

Just how noise affects people is a key question – perhaps the key question – in assessing the impacts of a third runway at Heathrow.  Heathrow Airport is carrying out useful focus group research in an attempt to find the answer.

The numbers under the Heathrow flight paths are well-known:  currently over 725,000; a third runway would add around another 150,000.  What is much less clear is how many of these people are, or will be, deeply disturbed by aircraft noise.

However, there is some research to help us find that answer.  It is estimated that about one in ten people are particularly noise-sensitive.  According to the German psychologist, Rainer Guski, these people are likely to become more annoyed by noise than the general population.

 But there are other factors at play.  I summarized them in my book Why Noise Matters, published by Earthscan in 2011: “we are likely to become more annoyed if we believe the noise may be harming our health or putting us in danger.  We can get very annoyed too – even desperate – if we feel we have no control over the noise or we cannot stop it getting worse.  Generally, we are less annoyed if we feel there may be benefits linked to the noise: such as jobs or economic regeneration.  We are also less annoyed if we believe the authorities are doing everything they can to mitigate the effects of it.”

We also know that, although many more people are exposed to traffic noise, there is evidence to show that people become disturbed more quickly by aircraft noise.  It is thought this could be to do with the high-level of low frequency it contains.  In Why Noise Matters I concluded: “Wherever noise has a stronger than average low-frequency component – such as powerful stereo-systems, wind turbines, heavy lorries, high-speed trains – it seems particularly problematic.”

How does all this play out in the communities under the Heathrow flight paths?  Reactions of individuals to aircraft noise could not be more varied.

At HACAN we get angry letters from people who live within touching distance of the airport telling us we are talking nonsense since they have no problem with the noise.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are people 20 miles from the airport who go to their relatives at weekend to escape the noise.  In between, there are a lot of people who feel they can live with the noise (particularly if they were born and brought up under the flight path); and there is the group of people who are annoyed by the noise but not to the extent that it preoccupies them or they grab the first chance to move away when the opportunity presents itself.

What, then, will be the impact of a third runway at Heathrow?

A small number of people would be deeply disturbed by the extra planes.  Heathrow’s early research suggests it will be a lot less than 10%.  I suspect it might be closer to the 10% mark because of the large number of people who would be under a flight path for a first time.  What happened when the fourth runway at Frankfurt opened is instructive.  The shock to the system of a plane coming over every 90 seconds or so brought thousands on to the streets in protest.  These protests still continue well over two years after the runway has been open.  I suspect that Heathrow will try to manage the impact of a new runway better than the Frankfurt authorities did but we can still expect a percentage of lives of be wrecked by the noise.

Heathrow’s problem, though, is less the fact that 10% of people or, if their predictions are right, even fewer, will be utterly disturbed by the noise if a third runway is built but more that it will be 10% of such a high overall number:  with a new runway in place at least 875,000 people will be under the Heathrow flight paths

10% of 875,000 is 87,000 people.  Even 5% is 43,000.  That 43,000 figure is just less than 3 times the total number of people who will be living under a flight path at Gatwick if a second runway is built.  Or about 4 times the total number current affected by noise at Stansted.

 Aircraft noise is not the defining issue in the lives of most people living under the Heathrow flight paths.  But it might be the issue that defines whether or not a third runway is ever built at Heathrow.


The Quiet Revolution

27/1/14   (HACAN blog by John Stewart)

The Airports Commission could be driving a quiet revolution in the way aircraft noise is measured.

A blog about noise measurements?! 

Resist the temptation to stop reading!  For this could turn out to be one of the most significant and far-reaching things to emerge from the Commission.

For decades the Department for Transport (DfT) has clung desperately to its favoured way of measuring aircraft noise in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was dreadfully out-of-date with present-day realities.  Howard Davies’s no-nonsense approach has found them out and leaves them no place to hide.

The current metric the DfT uses – and the one adopted by Heathrow Airport in making its case for a third runway – to measure noise (or noise annoyance) suggests there is no problem with aircraft noise in places like Fulham, Putney or Ealing. 

Clearly not reality!

This much-criticised metric, known as LAeq, averages out the noise over a 16 hour day, which is then usually averaged out over a year.  Most people accept that does not accurately reflect the way people are disturbed by the noise as it includes the quiet periods of the day and the quiet days of the year.

It also gives too much weight to the noise of each individual aircraft (which has fallen over the years) and not enough the number of planes overhead (which has increased dramatically in recent years – with a blip for the recession).  Using LAeq, four hours worth of non-stop noise from Boeing 757s at a rate of one every two minutes is said to cause the same annoyance as one extremely loud Concorde followed by 3 hours 58 minutes of relief.  That is clearly not a reflection of reality!  There has also been criticism that the level at which noise annoyance sets in – 57 db LAeq – is unrealistically high.

When the Commission’s shortlisted proposals are appraised over the coming months, the Commission will only expect the 57 db LAeq metric to be used to make historical comparisons.  It is ushering in a whole new era of noise measurement in its appraisal document

The Airports Commission use – and require the promoters of the shortlisted schemes to use- the metric required by the European Commission – Lden – where noise is measured over a 12 hour day; a 4 hour evening; and an 8 hour night; with 5 and 10 decibels being added to the evening and night levels respectively to reflect the lower background noise levels at these times.

Many argue this gives a more accurate picture of noise annoyance.  The Commission will also use a 54 db LAeq metric.  Additionally, it will employ a complementary metric – N 70 – which measures the number of aircraft above 70 decibels passing over a property, providing the sort of understandable information local residents appreciate.

And the difference in the numbers of being impacted by the metrics the Commission will be using and that used by the DfT is startling.   Using 55 Lden, 725,000 people are impacted by noise from Heathrow; 57 db LAeq puts it at 245,000. 

It will be very difficult for the Department for Transport or individual airports to revert to using only the 57 LAeq method of measuring noise annoyance post-Davies.

Whatever comes of its runway proposals, the Airports Commission will have set in train a quiet revolution in measuring aircraft noise.  Policy in future will be made on the basis of much more accurate noise measurements.




There is no business case for airport expansion

BY  , WWF-UK Chief Executive

UK newspapers are full of speculation about what Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission are going to reveal as their short list for airport expansion, when they publish their interim report on 17 December.

Aeroplane in flight

According to newspaper reports, Sir Howard is going to be recommending Heathrow as his favoured site for expansion. The debate on airport expansion now seems to be centred on not ‘whether’ but ‘where’—and that ‘where’ does seem increasingly likely to be Heathrow.

Heathrow is the UK’s main business airport with a third of passengers flying for business purposes. It’s therefore not surprising that ‘business needs airport expansion’ has been a key argument made by Heathrow and other proponents of more runways—especially given the economic downturn.

But what WWF’s analysis of publicly available data shows, combined with our FTSE 500 research (PDF) and experience of working with leading companies to reduce their flying, is that business flying has been in decline for some time. What is more, our evidence points to this being a permanent shift in business travel behaviour with companies choosing to fly less and use alternatives more, such as rail and videoconferencing to save time, money and carbon.

To illustrate the fact that business is flying less, WWF has prepared an infographic which clearly shows that this trend has been in existence since well before the recession and any talk of a ‘capacity crunch’ in UK airport capacity.  When you add together the historic decline in business flying and the future intentions of many FTSE 500 companies to fly less, plus the latest achievements of our One in Five Challengers—who have cut their flights on average by 38% and saved £2.1 million over the last three years—the results are clear. It simply makes good business sense to fly less and use other alternatives instead to stay connected.

Check out this infographic link on the image

Of course, we’ve had other important objections to major airport expansion. First and foremost is our concern that the emissions produced by any new runways – at Heathrow or elsewhere – would wreck our UK climate targets. We simply can’t ‘magic’ these emissions away by expecting a cap & trade scheme (such as the troubled European Emissions Trading System) to offset this growth. Nor is any global aviation deal in sight to offset UK emissions growth from airport expansion.

Our analysis (PDF) also makes it clear that we already have sufficient airport capacity for aviation to grow, according to the limits compatible with the UK Climate Change Act, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. And according to our report on The Economics of Airport Expansion (PDF), there is no proven link between airport expansion and economic growth.

We’re disappointed that the Airports Commission seems to be convinced that business needs airport expansion. Nor do they appear to accept the potential for alternatives such as rail and videoconferencing to replace a significant amount of flying. That’s not what the evidence says. The projections simply don’t match the reality—there is no business case for airport expansion.

Businesses are profiting from #FlyingLess. We don’t need new runways.

WWF share of business flights Dec 2013



The Battle over Air Passenger Duty

1st December 2013

Blog by John Stewart

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the introduction of Air Passenger Duty (APD).  It has proved hugely controversial.  Environmentalists and most residents groups’ believe it is not high enough.  Aviation interests argue it is crippling the industry.

Even today the Sunday Telegraph is reporting that some 250 chief executives have written to the Chancellor, in advance of his Autumn Statement this week, claiming APD is harming the economy.

In a sense, both sides are right.  Air Passenger Duty has the potential to transform demand for air travel.  And both sides know it.  If it is removed, more people will fly.  If it is increased, demand over time is likely to fall.  Higher rates of APD would hit leisure travel hardest as it is much more price-sensitive than business travel.  Less demand for air travel would, in turn, reduce the demand for new runways.

Howard Davies, the chairman of the Airports Commission, has argued that it is not his job to advise on taxation rates; that he has to work within the current regime.  In my view, he is correct.  It is the job of governments to decide the extent they want to use fiscal measures to manage demand.

When Kenneth Clarke, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced APD 20 years ago in his budget of November 1993, it wasn’t to manage demand but to ensure aviation paid its fair share of taxation: “First, air travel is under-taxed compared to other sectors of the economy. It benefits not only from a zero rate of VAT; in addition, the fuel used in international air travel, and nearly all domestic flights, is entirely free of tax. A number of countries have already addressed this anomaly”.

By 2007 the Government was framing APD as a response to rising aircraft emissions.  But, in recent years, government has seen it as a substitute for tax on fuel and VAT.  Ministers regard it as easier to impose APD than enter into prolonged international negotiations to get agreement for aviation fuel to be taxed or for a VAT-type tax to be imposed on international flights.

At present there is a huge discrepancy between what motorists are taxed and the tax paid by the aviation industry.  Revenue from car travel (tax on fuel and VAT) bring the Treasury about £12 billion a year.  APD raises around £2.8 billion.  It would need to be quadrupled match the income from car travel.  [The RAC says in 2012, the overall motor vehicle traffic volume in Great Britain was 302.6 billion vehicle miles. This is similar to traffic volumes in 2011 (303.8 billion vehicle miles) and 2010 (303.2 billion vehicle miles).The CAA said in 2011 the number of seat kilometres flown by UK airlines was around 306 billion kilometres (not miles) but that excludes the seat kilometres of foreign airlines using UK airports.  AW comment]. 

Of course, the aviation industry argues that, unlike roads, it doesn’t depend (certainly in the UK) on state money to build and maintain its infrastructure.  It also points out there are tax-breaks given to rail and bus travel.  However true those arguments are, I’m not sure they fully answer Kenneth Clarke’s original point that aviation fails to contribute its fair share of general taxation.

The industry also argues that APD does not exist in other countries.  That is true.  However, there are a variety of ticket-type taxes or other charges in many European countries.  For example in Austria, the ticket fee depends on the distance, 7€ is for the short distances, 15€ for middle and 35€ for long distance.  None of them – yet – bring in as much money as APD.

But politicians across Europe are beginning to understand APD-type taxes have two potential benefits:  they rake in money during these recessionary times; and they can act as an effective tool to regulate demand if they want to do so.  That’s why they fill environmentalists and residents with hope and strike fear into the heart of the aviation industry.

I suspect the battle will go on for at least another 20 years.




More Mills and Boon than serious debate from Louise Ellman

30th November 2013

By John Stewart  From the HACAN blog

I don’t know Louise Ellman personally.  The only time we have spoken is when I gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee last year.  But it surprises and disturbs me that, as chair of the committee, she can write – or at least put her name to – an article of such stunningly poor quality as appeared in Politics Home on Friday.

Let’s look at its low-lights.

Ellman starts: “For half a century, Britain has been paying an increasingly high economic and social price for the failure of successive governments to take decisions about how to expand London’s airports”. 

Come on, Louise!  For 50 years?  Since 1963?  The year you turned 18; when I was a boy in short trousers; and Harold Wilson was still 12 months away from becoming Prime Minister for the first time.

More significantly, in 1963 Southampton was more probably important than Heathrow; ocean liners, not aircraft, were the mode of transport for inter-continental journeys.  Just four years earlier my dad, who had been teaching in Zimbabwe, retuned to the UK by ship.  He never considered the plane as an option.  Indeed, I don’t think he flew in his entire life.

Let’s glance at the state of aviation in 1963.  Heathrow ruled the European roost even then.  This from Wikipedia: “In 1961 Frankfurt already had 2.2 million passengers and 81,000 take-offs and landings, making it the second busiest airport in Europe behind London Heathrow (my emphasis).”

Charles de Gaulle was but a glimmer in the planners’ eyes.  It didn’t open until 1974.  But perhaps it’s Schiphol Louise had in mind.  1963 was the year the construction of the current airport began, to be opened in 1967 by HM Queen Juliana

Ellman’s gushing prose continues:  “Heathrow has been full for a decade.  This means that the UK has started to lose out to rival hubs in e.g. Paris, Frankfurt and Schipol.”

Her first sentence is simply wrong.  Heathrow’s runways are operating at about 99% capacity but it has the terminal capacity to cater for another 20 million passengers a year.  More passengers using larger planes remains an option for Heathrow Airport.

Ellman does acknowledge that our existing links with well-established markets are excellent.  She fails, though, to point out that this makes London the top city in Europe in which to do business.  Global property consultants Cushman & Wakefield’s 2011 The European Cities Monitor found London topped the league for the 22nd year out of 22. Cushman & Wakefield commented: “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as theleading city in which to do business. Paris and Frankfurt remain in second andthird place respectively.”   London retained it position in 2012.

Ellman gushes on…..about Let Britain Fly: “The Campaign, which was launched last week, is the biggest and most influential business-led campaign ever created to address the issue of airport expansion. I was delighted to take part in the Launch and offer my strong support”.

It may be or may not be the biggest but to argue it is the “most influential” just weeks after it has been formed is, frankly, nonsensical.  Both Louise and I are both of an age to remember the early days of the Beatles (1961 I think it was – the era when Heathrow was allegedly already falling behind other European airports).  To have argued the they were the “most influential” band when they started out in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, a city Ellman has served conscientiously over the years, would have been meaningless.  They became influential.  Let Britain Fly might become influential.  Or it might crash land like it predecessor bodies:  Flying Matters and Freedom to Fly.  Her breathless prose doesn’t allow for that eventuality.

The gush reaches its apex:  “Last week saw what I believe will prove to be a defining moment in the campaign to restore the UK’s pivotal status in the global aviation industry”.

Wow!  Breathless stuff Louise!  Pity is it would be better coming from a Mills and Boon writer of romantic fiction than the chair of Parliament’s Transport Select Committee.

There is a debate to be had about future capacity needs.  There are serious discussions taking place in different fora a around the country.  It is a debate that HACAN seeks to take part in constructively.

But let’s debate on reasoned arguments rather than breathless prose; on factual statements; not bland assertions.  Mills and Boon has no place in this debate.





Open letter to Sir Robin Wales

1st November 2013
From the HACAN blog.

Dear Sir Robin,

We haven’t met.  So I don’t know whether or not you have a sense of humour.  But residents under the Heathrow flight paths aren’t at all amused at the remarks you made when you addressed a recent conference on economic development in West London (

 “What is it with West London? You build an airport, generate thousands of jobs, grow an economy, then say – oh, it’s a bit noisy!”

I suspect that line got a laugh.  But it does betray a total lack of understanding of the way aircraft noise, caused by Heathrow, impacts on residents.  For so many people the noise is seriously disturbing.  For you to pass it off as ‘a bit noisy’ is like telling a starving person they are ‘a bit hungry’.

Perhaps next time you are in West London, you can meet nine year-old Zoe, who wrote this letter toHeathrowAirport:

Dear Heathrow

 “I’m a 9 year old girl who can’t get to sleep at night because you send planes every minute or two of the day over our house. I only fall asleep after 23:30 because they fly really low and they are very loud. I have problems focusing on my work at school and have a violin concert coming up next Wednesday. My mum has been in touch with you many times asking you not to be so cruel to us but you don’t help us or care about our health. If you had children of your own you would understand. Why are you doing this to us? We have never been bad to you.”

 Zoe (aged 9) 

Zoe doesn’t live on top of Heathrow.  She lives with her mum in a small cottage beside the railway lands at Willesden Junction.

Or perhaps you’d like to pop in to have a coffee with Anna in Clapham.  You won’t miss the planes.  There can be over 40 an hour.

I would like to know when my area and my street in particular became a direct arrival path into Heathrow. I have lived in my flat for 5 years and until September 2012 had no disturbance from aircraft. Now I have no peace and am woken up constantly even with the double glazing I had fitted last November in frustration.  Many of my neighbors have lived in the area for 30 years or more and have never experienced so many planes coming from several directions. The planes are extremely noisy, and constant especially early morning starting at 4.30am.”

But you needn’t leave your own borough to meet people whose lives have been turned upside down by the noise.  Just stroll across from your fabulous new council offices to meet Rajneesh in Beckton:

I’ve lived in the area nearly all my life.  Even when London City Airport opened I had no noise problem.  It was only the quieter turbo-prop planes which used it.  But a combination of lots of noisy jets plus, now, Heathrow planes have left me desperate and desolate.”

You may also want to discuss with Rajneesh the remarks you reportedly made that the opposition to the expansion ofCityAirportjust comes from people who moved into the area recently.

Unlike you, Sir Robin, Heathrow Airport, the Department for Transport and the Airports Commission understand that noise is the biggest obstacle to expansion at Heathrow.  They know that, according to the European Commission, over 725,000 residents are impacted by the noise; that is, 28% of all people affected by aircraft noise right acrossEurope.  Noise is the reason why the aviation industry is looking seriously at such measures as steeper descent approaches and improved mitigation schemes.

Your West London audience may have tittered at your remarks but it is they, above all, who understand what you said was patently and, if I may use the word, laughably, untrue.

We all support job creation and economic development.  And we understand why you caste envious eyes in the direction of West London.  You have been at Newham a long time; in fact you became leader in 1995 and them Mayor in 2002.

Despite your well-intentioned efforts Newham remains one of the poorest boroughs in the country.  In 2000, it ranked as the 5th most deprived; in 2004, the 6th; in 2007, it slipped to the 2nd most deprived; rising to 8th in 2011.

You have given the huge Westfields development in Stratford planning permission (including 5,000 car-parking spaces); you have allowed CityAirport to expand; you supported the controversial M11 Link Road in the 1990s; the Council has consistently supported new road-based river crossings.

You have brought noise to Newham; but not prosperity.  In yourWest London speech you jokingly (I think) said that you’d be delighted if Heathrow closed, and the airport moved east.  Heathrow is not going to close any time soon to rescue you.  You need to find your own solution for Newham.  You need to up your game, or move on….

If you do decide to retire to your native Ayrshire, I recommend the smart town of Troon.  It is probably even more prosperous thanWest London.  I know Prestwick Airport is nearby but it’s only ‘a bit noisy’.

Yours sincerely,

John Stewart

Chair HACAN  



The IPCC Report should act as a wake-up call to the aviation industry

27.9.2013  (Blog by John Stewart)

It is just coincidence.  On the day that the IPCC report, calling for immediate action to tackle climate change, is published – ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) is continuing its leisurely deliberations in Montreal to find a way to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation that is acceptable to the governments of the world.

ICAO, an arm of the United Nations specializing in aviation, moves at a snail-like pace. It has been considering aviation emissions for years but still made no recommendations. Its latest round of deliberations has been prompted by the recent inclusion of aviation into the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme which would have hit all planes using European airports. But, since most of the rest of the world refused to play ball, the EU suspended the scheme and everybody crawled back to ICAO for yet more negotiations.

The words “urgent” and “ICAO” have never really gone together but today’s IPCC Report suggests that ICAO needs to take lessons from Usain Bolt and get sprinting.

Aviation is set to become a serious obstacle to the worldwide community achieving the reductions in global warming gases required to prevent runaway climate change.

The industry keeps quoting the figure that aviation only accounts tor 2% of worldwide emissions. That figure is utterly misleading. It emerged in the early 1990s since when the number of aircraft in the world’s skies has mushroomed. Although aircraft are becoming cleaner, a more realistic figure is thought to be between 3.5% and 5%.

And in rich countries the proportion of their total emissions from aviation is higher. The worldwide average is only so low because so many people in poorer countries never set foot in an aeroplane. According to the WorldWatch Institute, only 5% of the world’s population has ever flown:

But it is in the future that aviation will become the real culprit. While every other industry believes it can find ways to cut its emissions, aviation will struggle to do so. This is not surprising since aviation is so dependent on oil. But it means that aviation could account for 25% of UK emissions by 2050, according to the UK Committee on Climate Change. Worldwide, aviation emissions are set to triple by 2050.

Today’s IPCC Report should act as a wake-up call to the aviation industry. It doesn’t mean the end of aviation as flying brings important cultural and economic benefits. It ought to, though, focus minds on the tax-breaks aviation receives: tax-free fuel and VAT-free travel. A sizeable proportion of flights are over short distances – for example 45% of flights within Europe are 450 kilometres or less.

Aviation emissions can be cut without crippling the industry. The industry won’t do this of its own accord. It needs Government action. And fast. That probably rules out the snail-like ICAO which will probably still be debating its next small step when half of Bangladesh lies under water. Now there’s a thought: shouldn’t ICAO move its meetings from Montreal to Dacca. It may concentrate minds.





Forging Links: European Aviation Campaigners’ Conference

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


Last weekend’s conference in Munich showed just how vibrant the European movement against airport expansion has become.  On Saturday (22nd June) over 250 campaigners from across Europe packed the sports centre in the small town of Attaching, just outside Munich, sharing ideas and plan Europe-wide campaigns.

Ten years ago this sort of conference would not have taken place.  There was little Europe-wide contact between grassroots campaigners.

But all that has changed over the past decade.  Campaigners have been in regular contact with each other, building up a European network.

And success has followed.  A third runway has been stopped at Heathrow.  Plans for new airports in Siena and Viterbo in Italy have been abandoned. The residents of Munich voted against a third runway in a referendum last March.  There is huge opposition to the proposed new airport for Nantes in Western France.  Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Berlin to protest against airport expansion.  And, of course, every Monday night for the last 18 months thousands of people have occupied the airport terminal at Frankfurt to protest against the impact of the fourth runway.

People at the conference shared campaigning techniques, including an excellent session on the role of direct action, led by Plane Stupid.

But Saturday’s conference didn’t just hear stories of protest.  There were experts talking about the climate change, noise and air pollution impacts of aviation.  And a powerful talk from Alexander Mahler of the think-tank Green Budget Germany outlining the billions lost to the economy as a result of the tax-free fuel that airlines enjoy.

The conference issued a manifesto.  Key demands included an end to night flights and an end to the tax-free fuel from which aviation benefits.  These demands will form the basis of Europe-wide campaigns over the coming year.

Campaigners across Europe are forging links like never before.  They are determined to see the aviation industry tamed.

Freising Aufgemuckt Gegen den Flughafen-Ausbau

No Third Runway badges, at Munich



Airport posturing and the art of ignoring evidence

Joe Peacock responds to BHX’s (Birmingham Airport’s) latest announcement

June 18, 2013

AirRail Link at Birmingham International Airpo...

AirRail Link at Birmingham International Airport, West Midlands, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve spent a few years as an environmental campaigner countering the propaganda that comes out of BHX and their constant begging for more government money to prop up their operations. I still don’t understand why it is that evidence counts for nothing when it comes to the dirty, damaging and unproductive aviation industry.

The economic output of the aviation industry is considerably smaller than that of the water, sewerage and waste industry, yet there’s one shrill voice always claiming to be the potential saviour of our economy (and it’s not people who clean up our mess).

The latest risible claims of Birmingham Airport becoming bigger than Heathrow currently is (link)  were lapped up by the media recently, but should be seen in the context of what they are; part of a frenzied process where all airports are currently trying desperately to persuade the government that more and more expansion is possible and they are in the best place to provide it.
 Before that, Heathrow came up with various new plans for a third and fourth runway, there’s the Boris Island ridiculousness and much more to come. There could be 35 airport plans submitted to the Airport Commission by 19th July, which will largely be public relations exercises by firms of architects, eager to impress their rivals or potential customers.

None of this helps in evidence-based policy making, as they all very conveniently ignore any facts that should be taken into account when looking at aviation policy, such as issues to do with the availability and cost of resources (especially fuel), travel trends in recent years and economic projections that may influence these, as well as either measures to deal with climate change or the likely changes to weather patterns and the resulting need for adaptation caused by our inability to act on greenhouse gas emissions.

Birmingham is claiming it could attract 70 million passengers a year – that’s growth of 686% when almost all airports are seeing a reduction in passenger numbers (over the past 5 years), even if the longer term trend is slightly up (about 1.2% a year over the last decade). Quite what amazing events are going to stimulate that kind of growth is unclear, as is who would fund the kind of investment necessary to create the infrastructure necessary for such an enormous airport, especially when the airport’s management had to fight tooth and nail to persuade their shareholders to fund the current runway extension.

If we look at the bigger picture, the UK has more runway capacity than Japan, even though Japan – which is also an island trading nation – has twice our population and twice our GDP. Also there is a large amount of spare capacity currently at UK airports – the total capacity of our airports is at least twice, and probably three times, the DfT’s central passenger demand forecast for 2030. On what possible grounds could we be planning to build more capacity now?

We are always told that more airport capacity is needed to promote business and that we can’t possibly compete without direct flights to every corner of the globe, yet business travel accounted for 32% of all air travel in 1995, 24% in 2000 and 20% in 2012. It is not clear why, in the age of videoconferencing, anyone would expect business travel to bounce back up. The number of business flights abroad by UK residents has fallen by a fifth since 2002 and only one in every eight overseas flights by UK residents in 2011 was for business purposes. WWF has worked with businesses to reduce the amount of flying their employees did and this has been remarkably successful – two-year members of the one in five programme have cut their flights by 41%, saving £2.4 million on average. This includes some pretty big companies, such as Balfour Beatty, BSkyB, BT, Lloyds TSB, Marks & Spencer, Microsoft, Skanska and Vodafone UK.

The aviation industry and the DfT have consistently over-estimated not only total air passenger demand but also the relative market share attributable to business travel, which, despite doing exactly the opposite for the past 20 years, they predict to rise faster in future. With the economic contribution, the number of jobs created and the number of passengers all proved to be wildly over-estimated, you would have thought it was time to take a rational look at the situation with a business head on.

Let’s see some real evidence to back up the wild claims they are making, otherwise the government should just ignore these fantasists and get on with real policy-making to reflect the world we live in.




“Connectivity” is not all it’s cracked up to be

Blog by John Stewart


‘Connectivity’ is the aviation industry’s current buzzword.  It is also a central concern of the Airports Commission.  The Commission, under Sir Howard Davies, was set up by the Government to examine whether any more airport capacity may be required, particularly in London and the South East, to ensure that the UK stays well-connected with the rest of the world.

Yet a new report questions whether there is a significant link between extra connectivity and economic performance

The Economics of Airport Expansion“, by CE Delft (March 2013), concludes that claims about the economic benefits of connectivity are not founded on solid evidence and there is no proof that extra connectivity results in economic growth.

This is particularly the case in developed countries with mature economies. A new airport built in a remote region of Africa or Asia might well help improve the economy of that region.  It would be providing first-time links to the rest of the world which may well facilitate trade.

Somewhere like London is in a very different position.  It is already the best-connected city in the world [Cushman & Wakefield data]. There is no guarantee that more airport connectivity in itself will deliver the economic benefits many assume. 

It’s analogous to the situation with road building in the 1990s.  The Government’s road building plans – Roads to Prosperity (1989) – were based on the assumption that new roads would lead to economic benefits.  However, Transport and the Economy, the 1996 report by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) concluded that the link between new roads and economic development in a developed economy was tenuous.  A new road might help the economy if other factors, such as the availability of skilled labour, were already in place but, on its own, it would have little effect.

None of this is to deny that the UK will want to develop good links with the emerging economies of the world over the coming decades.  But it should be a warning sign to the Airports Commission to assess very carefully the real links between improved connectivity and economic performance.  ‘Connectivity’ may simply be the latest word the aviation industry to push for expansion.


** It appears that the term “connectivity” – in relation to aviation rather than telecommunications – was first used by IATA in around 2007 link and then by York Aviation (a research company that produces only reports favourable to the aviation industry’s growth) in 2006.  link

IATA defines connectivity, for aviation, as: “….a measure which reflects the range and economic importance of destinations, the frequency of service and the number of onward connections available through each country’s aviation network”.



Nantes anti-airport campaigners sense famous victory

Blog by John Stewart


Up to 40,000 people turned out to protest against new airport

I am going to enjoy writing this blog. It is the account of a remarkable protest I attended last weekend (Saturday 11th May) when up to 40,000 people turned out to protest against the building of an airport.

But it is more than that: it is the story of campaigners from an unfashionable part of rural France on the verge of defeating plans for a major international airport. If they do succeed, the impact will be felt way beyond the French borders. It will add to the belief that it is becoming increasingly hard to build new runways or new airports anywhere in Western Europe.

In 2010, the UK Government dropped proposals for new runways at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Last year, plans for a third runway at Munich suffered a real setback when they were rejected in a referendum. And, of course, more than 18 months after it opened, huge protests continue to take place over the fourth runway at Frankfurt.

The fight against the proposed new Nantes Airport has become a cause-celebre across France. There are support groups, called “committees”, in 200 towns and cities. Each group stages demonstrations in their own towns and lobbies politicians in their own areas in support of the Nantes campaigners. Hardly a week goes by without one of the committees cycling or walking through France to the site of the proposed airport. Last weekend on my way back from the protest I spied a billboard in Le Mans– over 100 miles from Nantes– opposing the airport.

The question of the airport is now regarded as one of the top half dozen most pressing problems in Francois Hollande’s in-tray; complicated by the fact that Hollande’s Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is a former Mayor of Nantes and a strong supporter of the new airport.

Last Saturday up to 40,000 people formed a 25 kilometre-long human chain around the site of the proposed airport. link

These are astonishing numbers but made the more remarkable by the fact the protest is rooted in the small towns and villages of rural France; not in a major metropolitan area. Nantes, the nearest big city, is 15-20 miles away.

So what has turned a campaign by a handful of farmers and villagers into the biggest protest against airport expansion in Europe?

The campaign has always been rooted in the radical French ‘peasant farmers’ movement. They have been joined by climate campaigners and local people fearful of the way the new airport will blight their homes.

But it was the events of last 18 months which catapulted the protest into the international headlines. During last year’s presidential election four peasant farmers staged a 28 day hunger strike against the plan to evict them from their properties. Then, during the winter, there were tear-gas battles in the woods as police fought to remove hundreds of young protesters who had set up make-shift homes in support of the local community. The courage of the protesters from the self-styled ZAD as they resisted the police in the bitter cold and driving rain of last winter both cemented their support in the local community and inspired people from around France and beyond.

I first met the Nantes campaigners when they came to a big demonstration against the 3rd runway at Heathrow in 2008. We have kept in contact ever since. I have visited them on four occasions and spoken at their Paris rally. They adopted strategies used in the Heathrow campaign: to build a broad coalition; to organize pro-active, high-profile stunts and demonstrations; and to challenge the economic justification for the airport.

They commissioned their own independent study from the Dutch consultants CE Delft which questioned the economic case for the airport. The regional Government argues that the new two-runway airport – “Nantes International” – is required to replace the single runway airport in the city in order to attract investment into the area.

The opponents of the airport have maintained that there is not the demand to sustain an international airport; that the existing airport – nowhere near full – has sufficient capacity for a city like Nantes and that the area is just a little over two hours by fast train from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The campaigners also used the courts. Recently they got a critical ruling in their favour. The French court found that the airport’s promoters had failed to carry out proper flood plain and environmental assessments of the project, as required by the European Union. They cannot proceed with the airport until these are done. It would require a lot of work.

The campaigners believe that the ruling from the court may provide a way for the Government to drop the airport and save face. It could blame the European Union for stopping the airport.

No wonder the 40,000 campaigners were in carnival mood last Saturday. They believe that, perhaps as early as next year, they will be celebrating a famous victory.

As Genevieve Lebouteux, a long-time local activist and regional councillor for the Green Party said, “Quite simply, if they try to build the airport, there will be uprisings across France. The reaction to both the hunger strike and the resistance in the woods, as well as the recent court ruling, means it will be very hard for the authorities to go-ahead with the airport.”





Why putting Beeching in reverse is not enough…….

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


The railways have been given a second chance.  To make the most of it requires more than simply putting Beeching in reverse.  Rail must be seen as a way of getting cars off the roads and planes out of the air.  

I once saw Dr Beeching.  As a small boy, I was taken to Strathcarron, a picturesque station on the Kyle of Lochash line, nestling amongst the lochs and mountains of the Scottish Highlands.  We were there to yell our protests at Beeching as he sped through the station in his special train – no more than an engine – on his mission to decimate the nation’s railway network.  That line survived the cull; many didn’t.

This month marks the anniversary of Beeching’s infamous report.  He saw rail as a thing of the past.  The car was the future.  He was right…..and also very, very wrong.  The car has reshaped the world I knew as a young boy.  But, 50 years on, the railways are thriving, indeed growing.  And the name of the man who tried to kill them in mired in notoriety.

It is no good having popular trains and a packed M6.  It is pretty pointless investing in rail if hundreds of short-haul flights continue to use Heathrow. 

The railways have been given a second chance.  To make the most of it requires more than simply putting Beeching in reverse.  Rail must be seen as a way of getting cars off the roads and planes out of the air.   It is no good having popular trains and a packed M6.  It is pretty pointless investing in rail if hundreds of short-haul flights continue to use Heathrow.  Beeching will only be buried if a revived railway cuts car use and air travel.

It will require a policy change.  Governments have wanted more of everything: cars, trains and planes.  The general populace probably has as well.  But the future demands that choices be made.  Our current love affair with cars and aeroplanes is unsustainable.  We need to cut carbon emissions and noise.  Rail – though clearly not emissions or noise free – is part of the answer.

Significant modal shift is unlikely to take place without bold policies.  Instead of a high-speed line through the Chilterns, what about giving over two lanes of the M1 or the M6 to rail?  Or imposing an emissions tax on cars, lorries and short-haul flights in order to finance near-free rail services in out towns and cities?  We need to get back to an era where public transport – buses, trains and trams – and the bicycle were the first choice of transport for most journeys.  That requires a bold revolution.

We need to get back to an era where public transport – buses, trains and trams – and the bicycle were the first choice of transport for most journeys.  That requires a bold revolution.

Dr Beeching would have been astonished if he was still around to read the EU’s Transport White Paper, published in 2011.  

Overall it is still too much about ever-increased mobility but it states firmly “the transport system is not sustainable.  Looking 40 years ahead, it is clear that transport cannot develop along the same path.”

Amongst its aims are that “by 2050 the majority of medium-distance passenger transport should go by rail”.  Dr Beeching has met his nemesis.






The planet will have the last word

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


Climate change will be the factor which will ultimately restrict the growth in aviation.  And yet in the myriad of proposals for new runways and gleaming new airports, it hardly features.

I suspect this is partly because it is the inconvenient truth that would sound the death-knell of many of the proposals.  But it is also because the aviation industry has now adopted a reassuring position:  don’t worry, we understand the problem and are dealing with it through new technology and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Green Technology and Emissions Trading Insufficient

Greener technology is of course welcome and there are people within the industry who are making genuine efforts to mitigate aviation’s climate impact so that at least the benefits of of some aviation can be preserved.  But, though new technology can, and often does, surprise us, the climate science suggests that, in itself, it will not be sufficient to deal with the majority of aviation emissions.

With the EU Emissions Trading Scheme now suspended for flights into and out of Europe for one year, there is no longer much certainty that the ETS can be relied upon, or that ICAO will provide a viable scheme to control international aviation CO2 in any reasonable time-frame.

Global Temperatures Rising Faster than Predicted

Aviation, of course, needs to be looked at in the context of what is happening on the wider climate front.  The Copenhagen talks – and subsequent summits – have concentrated on measures that would limit the rise in world temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, which, until recently, was thought to be achievable (and sufficient to prevent runaway climate change).

However, recent evidence suggests that temperatures are heading for a 4 or 6 degree rise by the end of the century.  That would have a potentially catastrophic impact on the climate.  To prevent profound disruption to the future global climate would require much tougher measures than world leaders have been looking at.

As far as aviation in the UK is concerned, the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the Government’s official advisers, are based on stopping a 2 degree rise in temperatures and allowing the Government to reach its target of cutting overall CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

The CCC argues that the number of flights could increase by around 55% and still enable that target to be met. However, this 55% figure is problematic.  Not only because the science now indicates the world is heading for a rise in 4 or 6 degrees but also because the 55% figure makes huge assumptions about the cuts that will be made in others sectors of the economy by 2050.

The rest of the UK economy has to make huge cuts, in order to permit air travel the special status of being allowed not to cut emissions.

It would require the power supply to be fully decarbonised, virtually every home in the country to be so well insulated that it lost almost no heat, carbon capture and storage to be in place and huge reductions in emissions from shipping and waste to take place. (The aviation industry is also critical of the figure, arguing it under-estimates the progress that it will make in tackling CO2 through the introduction of cleaner planes and improved operating practices).

The Committee on Climate Change will guide Davies Commission

However, despite these considerable flaws in the CCC’s figures, they are expected to guide the Davies Commission when it starts its work this year to assess future airport capacity needs.  Given that, it is worth looking at what a 55% increase in flights could mean in practice.  In bald figures, 55% more landings and take-offs could theoretically fill three or more new runways.  But that needs to be heavily caveated.

Firstly, if new runways were to be built, it would require the number of planes at the many existing airports which have significant spare capacity to be capped retrospectively. These airports that currently have this unused capacity could not use this, if new runways are also built and fully used. The airports affected would not be anticipated to accept this restriction on their growth meekly.

Secondly, it does not take account of the type of aircraft using the runways.  Long-haul flights clearly produce more emissions than short-haul. Three more runways used for a Heathrow-type proportion of long haul flights would send emissions way past government targets.  By contrast, one runway used largely for short haul flights may not.

The CCC target: past its sell-by date

The wider question is whether the CCC target for UK air travel is past its sell-by date.  I suspect it is.

Its assumptions about the cuts in carbon that other industries are likely to look naively optimistic; its assumptions about the rate at which the world is warming now look unrealistic and complacent.  Unless the UK succeeds in cutting its overall carbon emissions by 80% or more before 2050, the less stringent target for air travel is hard to justify.

The climate science suggests that government aviation policy should be aiming at stabilising, if not cutting, the amount of flying we do, rather than providing for anticipated growth.

This can be done through the introduction of measures which dampen down demand: an end to tax-free fuel for aviation; a higher and more realistic rate of Air Passenger Duty to compensate for the zero-rate status the industry enjoys on VAT; tax-breaks for video-technology; investment in affordable rail.  Some of this would need to be done at an international level.  Fiscal measures can change behaviour.

Behavioral Change Required Now!

And this behavioral change needs to start now.  Professor Kevin Anderson puts it well in this lecture –  He shows that, while distant targets may be all well and good, the critical factor in determining the rise in global temperatures is the amount of CO2 we will emit over the next decades. Postponing action till dates conveniently far into the future is no longer an effective option.  He argues that, to control future climate disruption, the lifestyles of people in the rich world need to become much less carbon intensive, starting today.

Our consumption of air travel is merely one of the many high impact life-style choices we make, but it has recently become an increasingly significant and high carbon one.  The onus is on us to change so as to allow some growth in the poorer countries.

If the planet had a vote, it would be saying a firm ‘no’ to gleaming new airports anywhere in Europe.


The ‘Arab Spring’ at Department for Transport.              Will it last into 2013?

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers may have gone from the Department for Transport in 2012 but they could leave a more lasting legacy than many of their predecessors.  They ushered in the Department’s ‘Arab Spring’.  Certainly within the aviation sector.  Its civil servants now show a new openness, a willingness to listen to all sides of the debate that was previously in short supply.

Who can forget Chris Mullin’s classic account of his struggles with these civil servants’ predecessors during his “18 undistinguished months as aviation minister in Tony Blair’s Government?  He recounts in his diaries, A View from the Foothills:

“Wednesday 14th June….the much-postponed meeting between the MPs for Putney and Windsor and representatives of the airlines to discuss the night flights…officials have done all in their power to discourage action, but I persisted….

Thursday 9th November…Another meeting, against official advice, with Putney MP Tony Colman about night flights…needless to say nothing has happened.  Our official who sat in on the meeting made no secret of his view that nothing can be done and deeply resents my meddling…the relationship between the airlines and the Department is far too cosy.”

Perhaps the civil servants reached a low point (who really knows, though, because so much went on behind closed doors?) during the third runway campaign when, thanks to the work of Greenpeace and the new MP for Putney, a certain J Greening, the Sunday Times (9/3/08)* exposed ‘collusion’ between the civil servants and BAA, the owner of Heathrow Airport.

“Documents seen by The Sunday Times show that over the next weeks and months, senior executives from the airports operator were given unrivalled access to Whitehall so they could select alternate input data for the environmental predictions until they got the right results.  These frantic efforts finally resulted in success. The joint endeavours of the government and BAA claimed to prove that a new airport the size of Gatwick could be bolted on to Heathrow without any adverse environmental impact.”

In opposition, Greening and Villiers saw this cosy relationship at first hand.  In government, they were determined to change things.  Many of the old civil servants were moved on.  A new attitude appeared amongst civil servants.  They engaged in open discussion not only with the industry but also with environmental organizations and residents’ groups.  I’m sure this was also borne out of a new respect for these bodies as they had defeated the key expansion plans outlined in the 2003 Air Transport White Paper.

A willingness to reconsider policy areas long shut down – such as the levels at which noise becomes disturbing or the economic costs of the sleep disturbance caused by night flights – emerged.  Environmental factors – climate change, noise, air pollution – were accorded a new importance.

Will this new receptiveness survive despite the departure of Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers?  We’ll know later this year what decisions their successors have taken on the basic policy questions opened up by Greening and Villiers.  And by the end of the year the Davies Commission will have indicated what level of airport expansion it believes is required.  At this stage, it is difficult to second guess the direction policy will go.

However, the new attitude of the civil servants shows no sign of disappearing.  To the contrary, they seem comfortable with the dialogue.  The old attitude came from the way the officials saw their role: to create the right conditions for the UK aviation industry to flourish economically, with other considerations very much taking second place.  That mind-set led quite naturally to a certain closeness to the industry.  Now that environmental and quality of life considerations are required to feature much more centrally in aviation policy, dialogue with non-industry groups becomes essential.  It looks as if the Arab Spring is here to stay.

* the full Sunday Times article:



Justine Greening would have approved

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


Justine Greening would have nodded in approval when, last Friday, Sir Howard Davies explained the remit of the Airports Commission that the Government has asked him to head up.  The former transport secretary, who was moved from her post in the September reshuffle because of her principled and implacable opposition to Heathrow expansion, would have warmed to Davies’s explanation that he wanted the findings of the Commission to be based on evidence-based submissions.  Earlier this year she memorably dismissed the aviation industry’s failure to back up their sound-bites with sound arguments as a ‘pub-style debate’:

Greening, though, would have been uncomfortable with the fact – as I am – that the expansion of Heathrow is one of the options that Davies and his fellow commissioners are being asked to assess.  But I came away from Friday’s launch of the Commission a much happier person than when I arrived.  Davies made it clear that his Commission will be doing a serious piece of work; that they will not simply be recommending where expansion should take place.

I wrote in my blog on 3rd September

To propose a new airport or runway without first analysing demand is like Tescos building a superstore without checking whether it is required.  It runs counter to the basic laws of business. Yet that is the approach being urged on the Government.

In recent weeks the cheer-leaders for the different airports have been taking to the airwaves: Birmingham, Boris Island, Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, even Manston in the remoter regions of Kent, or Cardiff.  Stories of shiny new airports and guessing games about which one will be chosen by the government are great copy for the press.  It is like an ‘X Factor of the Air’.  You almost expect Simon Cowell should be given the casting vote.  But it’s very bad economics.

It’s clear that will not happen.  The Commission will start by assessing future demand – in my view, an essential first step.  Davies also made it clear that any proposals the Airports Commission recommend will need to be consistent with the Government’s climate change targets, and that they will take full account of noise and other more local environmental considerations.

It is less clear how much work will be done on the extent demand could be managed through fiscal measures, such as ending the tax-free fuel the aviation industry enjoys, though consideration will be given to the potential of high-speed rail and video-conference to cut demand.

At the end of 2013 the Commission will be required to publish an interim report which Davies said will set out some short-term proposals but will also flag up “plausible” options that will be worked up in some detail for the final report due out in Summer 2015, two months after the General Election.

I suspect the final report will recommend expansion at some airports.  I know that any mention of expansion at Heathrow – be it a third runway or mixed-mode (more planes on the existing runways) – will generate huge opposition and will once again galvanise campaigners into action.  The same would happen at other airports.

But the Davies Commission will have done a job: it will have dragged the debate out of the pub.  And that’s a much sounder basis on which to plan future policy.

·  The full remit of the Commission, plus the list of commissioners, can be found at




The Head of Justine Greening on a Platter

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


The aviation industry got what it wanted:  the head of Justine Greening on a platter.

Immediate policy on Heathrow is unlikely to change – the new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has a record of opposing a third runway ( 28&number=26&mpn=Patrick_McLoughlin&mpc=West_Derbyshire&house=commons) and the Liberal Democrats remain firmly opposed – but the industry’s marketing onslaught has paid off.

That onslaught started the day Justine Greening was appointed.  On the day she was appointed in October 2011 BA chief Willie Walsh called her “compromised” because of her opposition to a 3rd runway and because she had a constituency under the Heathrow flight path.  (As had her predecessor Philip Hammond, but that was never mentioned by the industry) –

From day one the criticism by the industry and its allies was relentless.  Last month (23/8/12) Richard Wellings, head of transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank told The Financial Times Justine Greening’s position was “untenable”:

But the industry’s campaign was more subtle than simply personal attacks on Greening.  They put it in the context that she was standing in the way of urgent decisions being required to expand our airport capacity or UK plc will lose out.

They know that is nonsense.  They know Department for Transport figures show that that Britain has enough airport capacity until almost 2030.  They know that London is voted the top city in Europe for business in survey after survey.  The influential Cushman & Wakefield found: “London is still ranked – by some distance from its closest competitors – as the leading city in which to do business.” (Cushman & Wakefield, The European Cities Monitor (2011)

And just this month a Bircham Bell Dyson came to the same conclusion, even putting a plane on the cover of their report to illustrate it! (

The aviation industry know all this.  They also know that their oft-repeated assertion that Chinese firms are locating to other European cities because of an alleged lack of airport capacity in the UK is playing hard and fast with the facts.  They know that the number of flights between China and the UK is limited to 62 a week by bilateral treaty.  They know that the difficulty and cost of Chinese people getting visas to come to Britain is a major disincentive.  Ian Birrell wrote in the Guardian (14/5/12)>: “Getting a visa for the UK is “torture with a system judged the worst in Europe. Perhaps stupidest of all is how we treat the Chinese.”

The industry know all this as well.  But facts have not been their main concern.  Nor lofty thoughts about what is best for the UK economy.

Their aim has simply been to generate headlines to make the position of Justine Greening – and, ideally, also the aviation minister Theresa Villiers who was also firmly opposed to a third runway – untenable.  The industry has produced no hard economic evidence.  That was never their intention.  It was simply, as Greening put it in an interview with the Evening Standard ‘a pub-style’ debate.

And it worked.  Greening was moved not because she was a poor Transport Secretary.  She had won plaudits across the board for her policy of developing a long-tern strategy.

She went in order to get aviation out of the headlines.

My guess is the frenetic campaign by the aviation industry and its allies will now cease.  They’ve got their prey.  They’ve always known no big decisions will be taken until after the next election.  But they could not live with independent-minded ministers at the Department for Transport.  It was all very predicable.

As Chris Mullin, a former aviation minister who tried to stand up to the industry, said. “During my 18 months as a junior minister responsible for aviation policy, I learnt two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments usually give way to them”.  ( link )




It’s only good business: assess demand before even thinking about new airport capacity

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


To propose a new airport or runway without first analysing demand is like Tescos building a superstore without checking whether it’s required.  It runs counter to the basic laws of business.

Yet that is the approach being urged on the Government.  In recent weeks the cheer-leaders for the different airports have been taking to the airwaves: Birmingham, Boris Island, Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, even Manston in the remoter regions of Kent.  This weekend a fresh proposal was revealed in the Independent on Sunday: a new airport west of Heathrow, proposed by mystery backers, allegedly supported by Chinese money.  It’s almost got to the stage, if it’s Sunday, it must be time to roll out a new airport proposal in time for the first editions of the newspapers.

Stories of shiny new airports and guessing games about which one will be chosen by the government are great copy for the press.  It is like an ‘X Factor of the Air’.  You almost expect Simon Cowell should be given the casting vote.  But it’s very bad economics.

Before anything else happens the Government needs to assess future demand.  Only then will it be in a position to estimate how much new capacity will be needed, if any.  This is what the Government’s current consultation on future air policy is trying to do.  The Transport Secretary Justine Greening and the Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers are right to resist calls to be being bounced into an airport decision that is not backed up with sufficient evidence.

Future air travel demand is difficult to predict.  It depends on a number of things which include:

the rapid industrialization that is taking place in countries such as China, India and Brazil; oil prices; future taxes imposed on the aviation industry; the expected population growth in the UK; the increasing use of video-conferencing by business; the impact of high-speed rail; and the stage when demand for budget flights will peak.

Given the level of uncertainty inherent in the forecasts, the Department for Transport seems to be going for a range of forecasts.  This would seem sensible particularly since it is probable that, in the more market-led, less prescriptive approach the Government is developing towards airport expansion, it will be up to the promoter of the airport to make the business case for expansion.

And that’s what so much of the media don’t understand.  This Government is not going to pick an airport.  There is not going to a Simon Cowell moment any time soon.  Government will look at expansion proposals brought to it by the private sector and consider them in the light of their economic and environmental impact, as well as likely future demand.

A much less sexy story but much sounder business sense than being bounced into a bad decision.




Beyond Parody

Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch



It’s beyond parody.  The call by the Free Enterprise Group of MPs for TWO new runways at Heathrow is bad news……for them.  To ignore the successful fight that stopped the third runway ( is politically naïve.  To spell out a range of destructive options for a fourth runway is bordering on political suicide.  It will simply result in a myriad of communities being up in arms.

It reminds me of the disastrous mistake the then Roads Minister Peter Bottomley made in the 1980s.  He publicised all the options for new roads across London.  It resulted in 250 local groups banding together under the umbrella of All London against the Road Building Menace (ALARM).  Just a few years later, in 1990, the Government was forced to abandon all the road schemes (

Yet, people like Spelthorne MP Kwasi Kwarteng, a leading figure in the Group and author of the report on which the proposals are based, are not stupid.  So why are they doing this?

I suspect that most of them know their current proposals are folly.  If they don’t, they are not living in the real world.  Any attempt to build two new runways at Heathrow would result in the defining environmental battle of our time.

Even if the thousands of people who stood to lose their homes and businesses meekly accepted generous compensation packages, the amount of opposition the proposals would generate would be enormous:  hundreds of thousands of residents under the flight paths, climate activists, environmentalist from across Europe, anarchists of every hue…….the resulting campaign would make Occupy St Pauls look like a sedate church service on a quiet Sunday morning.  Surrey ladies would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the children of Swampy.     

It would be the campaign against the third runway writ large.  Ian Martin, writing in the Daily Telegraph (1/04/08), said of that campaign quote “There is an anger and a rebellion that runs from eco-warriors through to merchant bankers.”  No government could contemplate two new runways at Heathrow.

So what are the Free Enterprise MPs up to?

Their proposals are so off the wall it is difficult to be certain as to their motive.  They do seem to be trying to show that Heathrow, even with two new runways, is a cheaper option than an EstuaryAirport.  Many of the MPs are close to business and are probably reflecting the views of the many businesses who don’t want to see Heathrow replaced by an Estuary Airport.

But they are probably also using their report to make a business case for airport expansion per se.  Their aim is to create a climate of opinion where it becomes generally accepted that expansion is required; the only question that remains to be answered is where?  They seem to challenging the Transport Secretary: “If not a Heathrow, where will expansion take place, Justine?”

Justine Greening, the most informed Transport Secretary on aviation for a generation, is sticking to her guns.  She first wants evidence-based responses on whether more capacity is needed and, if so, how much would be required long before looking at the question of where is should be.

These proposals from the Free Enterprise Group are a parody of the sort of evidence-based arguments Justine Greening is looking for.

Kwasi Kwarteng Elizabeth Truss Sam Gyimah Priti Pa The Free Enterprise Group

Photo – Huffington Post   link 



There’s nothing unfair about Air Passenger Duty

 Blog by John Stewart, Chair of HACAN and of AirportWatch


It’s become a summer fixture.   As regular as Wimbledon, Henley or cricket as Lords.  It is the call by the aviation industry to end what it terms ‘the tax on people’s holidays’: the start of its annual A Fair Tax on Flying campaign.

A summer fixture: as regular as Wimbledon or Henley, the aviation industry’s campaign to end the ‘tax on people’s holidays’

The industry of course is talking about Air Passenger Duty (APD).  What is doesn’t talk about are the considerable tax breaks it enjoys through tax-free fuel and exemption from VAT.  Nor does it mention that APD would need to rise four-fold to pay for the money the Exchequer loses each year as a result of these tax-breaks (outlined in more detail on this AirportWatch page:

The purpose of this blog is not to kill off holidays in the sun but to unravel the industry spin around APD.  Let’s start with the tax-breaks. Motorists pay 58p a litre in fuel duty + VAT at 20%. Thus petrol tax is at a rate of approx 160%. Tax on aviation fuel is 0%.  The Treasury estimated in October 2009 that, if aviation paid VAT and its fuel was taxed at the same rate as petrol for cars, theUK would earn at least £10 billion a year. With the increase in fuel tax and VAT since then, the figure is now between £10 – 11 billion.

Let’s pause for a minute to let this figure sink in.  The country is losing over £10 billion a year because of the tax-breaks the aviation industry enjoys.  This at a time when cut-backs are being made to social services, schools, libraries, old people’s homes………Where’s the “fairness” in that?  Even Bob Diamond, the disgraced head of Barclay’s Bank, would struggle with this definition of fairness.  This is Orwellian language.  It’s Animal Farm relocated to Heathrow Airport.

The industry’s definition of fairness is one that even Bob Diamond would struggle to understand

The much-derided APD only brought in around £2.6 billion in 2011/2012, expected to reach £2.8 billion in 2012/2013: The difference between the lost revenue to the Treasury – £10-11 billion per year -and the tax take from APD – £2.8 billion – is £8-9 billion, the figure by which aviation is effectively subsidised each year.

Of course the industry correctly argues that it contributes billions to the economy each year.  But for it to claim, as the Manchester MP Graham Stringer did recently, that Air Passenger Duty puts UK in a “ridiculous anti-competitive position”  is once again play fast and loose with the facts.  Although it is true that other countries do not impose APD (through some impose VAT and tax fuel for domestic flights) there is no hard evidence to back the sort of claims Stringer is making.

Stringer, of course, has form.  Not for nothing is he known amongst his fellow MPs as ‘the honorable member for Manchester Airport.’  For a number of years he was chairman of the Manchester Airport Group.  Go though the pages of Hansard and, as regular as the first flight from Heathrow, you’ll find Stringer attending each debate on aviation making the industry case.

The fact of the matter is that the rate of APD for most passengers flying on holiday is only £13 for a return flight.  Only once you travel beyond Europe do the rates rise.  It is only fair that we as passengers should pay this tax.  As aviation minister Theresa Villiers has said on several occasions:  if APD is abolished, the Government would need to raise the tax from elsewhere.

The good news is the Government is not falling for the industry spin about a tax on people’s holidays.  Every summer the industry mounts its campaign.  Every autumn the Chancellor announces another rise in APD.  That’s as it should be until the tax-breaks the industry enjoys are no longer.  It is only fair.

I don’t know what the Chinese word for sound-bite is – or even if they have one.  What I do know is that the industry’s oft-repeated claims that the UK plc is losing Chinese business to the rest of Europe because of a dearth of air connections to China are little more than sound-bites based on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence.  If you include Hong Kong, Heathrow leaves other European airports standing in the number of flights it has to China.

Aviation minister Theresa Villiers put it so memorably when addressing a recent conference, packed with industry representatives,: “Like the rest of the Westminster village…I’ve read on the escalator at Westminster tube station that we’re lagging behind in this important market [China]….lagging behind unless, that is, we include the 3000 flights every year to Hong Kong.  If we do that…’s delivering more services to Chinathan any of its continental rivals.  And frankly I don’t think my colleagues in the Foreign Office would thank me if I started acting on the assumption, as some people seem to, that Hong Kong wasn’t a part of China!”

No wonder Justine Greening called the industry’s efforts so far “a pub-style debate”.  But what of the future?  Won’t the UK need more runways to maintain its good connections with fast-industrializing countries like China and India?  The truth is, we don’t know.  Greening is right to call for long-term thinking: “my job is to look beyond the next 10 or 15 years. My job is to say, ‘What do we need for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years?’

That long-term thinking should include consideration of how future oil prices, income levels and climate change targets will impact on the demand for air travel.  It cannot assume that the growth over the next few decades will follow the expansion of previous years.  Nor can it assume that aviation will continue to get the tax-breaks it currently enjoys.  The thinking also needs to take account of the growth of hub airports in the Middle East – places like Dubai– and in fast-industrializing countries such asChina.  It may be that it is more important that the UK, especiallyLondon, is well-connected to these new hubs rather than having flights to smaller cities in these countries.  This sort of in-depth work is required before an accurate assessment can be made about future demand, capacity and connectivity.

AirportWatch will be part of that debate.  Some of its constituent groups will be commissioning a major report looking at these issues.  The aviation industry will only become a player in the debate if it prepared to get off its bar stool and get serious about looking for sound solutions.  Can it leave its sound-bites of yesteryear behind and look to the future?  That is the challenge it faces.


Blog by John Stewart, Chair of AirportWatch and of HACAN

The German Spring Takes Off

On the weekend that campaigners occupy the centre of Munich, John Stewart outlines the story of the nationwide protests against airport expansion taking place in Germany.  And the implications it has for aviation policy in the UK.

It’s the story the UK media has missed.  Across Germany there is a nationwide revolt against airport expansion.  Week after week, thousands of people are taking to the streets and occupying the airport terminals.  Just days ago Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to run the gauntlet of an angry crowd in Frankfurt, furious at the impact of the fourth runway.  This weekend campaigners have occupied central Munich to protest against the handling of a city-wide referendum into plans for a third runway –

The protests matter for the UK.  Many have assumed that effective airport protests were just a British thing.  At a time when the industry is pressing once again for a third runway at Heathrow, it likes to give the impression there is little real opposition to expansion in the rest of Europe.  The German experience tells a very different story.

And Germany is not alone.  Peasant farmers in France recently went on a 28 day hunger strike to stop the authorities seizing their land to make way for a new airport outside Nantes.  Nothing in recent British aviation campaigning history can match that.

But it is in Germany where the protests have gone nationwide.  They started days after the fourth runway at Frankfurt was opened by Angela Merkel in October last year.


For 9 months up to 5,000 people have occupied the terminal in Frankfurt every Monday night






Thousands of residents took to the streets to voice their anger at the change in flight paths.  Every Monday night since then up to 5,000 residents have occupied the airport terminal.  I addressed one of their rallies a few months ago.  Rarely have I sensed such passion and anger.  These are respectable residents.  The authorities simply don’t know what to do with them.  Already they have been forced to concede a partial night flight ban.

The protestors have made links with their fellow campaigners in Germany.  In Berlin equally respectable residents regularly take to the streets to protest against the new airport due to open next year – .  And in Munich a vibrant campaign is taking shape.  It has brought together climate campaigners, local residents and direct action activists.  Plane Stupid Germany, modelled on Plane Stupid UK, has staged dramatic actions – see pictures below.  

In March there was a nationwide day of protest involving Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Leipzig

So why is it kicking off in Germany now?  Three key things seem to have happened at more or less the same time.

First, the big three airports – Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin– are expanding at the same time.  A major driver of this has been the plans to sell German airports to the private sector.  Frankfurt (already part-privatized along with Dusseldorf and Hamburg), Munich and Berlin will be competing for passengers.  A third runway at Munich, for example, only makes sense in this light.  There is no capacity problem at the airport.  There is no economic need for a new runway: Munich is Germany’s richest city.  And there is no jobs argument: the area around the airport has the lowest unemployment rate in Germany!  A third runway, though, is seen as making the airport more attractive to a private investor.

Secondly, as a result of these expansion plans, a sizeable number of residents at these three main airports have experienced, or are threatened by, dramatically increased noise levels.

And thirdly, climate change is coming up the agenda of German environmentalists – for years the main issue was nuclear power.

It is impossible at this stage to predict what will happen in Germany.  Or in France.  But the protests have almost certainly changed the landscape forever.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to expand airports anywhere in Western Europe.  That is the new reality that governments and the aviation industry have got to face up to.

 London 2008


Munich 2012

John Stewart







Blog by Joe Peacock, Birmingham Friends of the Earth

BAA  =  Birmingham’s Aggressive Advertising

Birmingham Airport’s aggressive advertising campaign to snatch air traffic from London and the South East is based on sound-bites rather than substance.  No convincing economic evidence has been produced to show that the UK needs any more air capacity.  Until that evidence is there, the endless pronouncements in the media from CEO Paul Kehoe are like spam messages flooding the country’s inbox trying to sell something it neither needs nor wants.

It also shows that you can be guaranteed one thing with the aviation industry: the need to satisfy its insatiable desire for growth at every single airport routinely eclipses all other considerations – social, environmental and, indeed, economic.

Our local airport has been one of the only ones in the UK successful in actually getting planning permission to build more capacity in recent years.  It is this which has now made its management even more bullish in its quest to attract more passengers from the South East.

Only a few years ago we were joking they would rename the airport “London Elmdon” and try to attract people from the South East.  We are not laughing any more. There are advertisements on billboards all over the South East trying to persuade people there that “Birmingham makes sense” as their airport of choice.

Birmingham’s sales pitch is that, with its permission to extend the current runway to accommodate large intercontinental aircraft, it has the capacity right now to relieve congestion in the South East.  But its aggressive attitude suggests it won’t stop there. It is likely that the plans for a second runway, which caused such outcry locally that we defeated them with ease last time, will come back in play. Could it be that the aggressive advertising campaign acts as a wake up call to the people of Birmingham to stop them sleepwalking into such a situation again?

On twitter recently, their public affairs spokesman said there position is “not before 2030”, but that’s hardly reassuring that they’re not beginning to make plans now. Also, to build this extension has taken public funding to the tune of £25 million, so imagine how much they’d be asking for next time!

We return, however to the key point.  There is no evidence that this level of expansion is required. Passenger numbers have been falling across the board and oil prices are still rising, making airlines struggle to keep afloat even with the massive tax breaks they receive. All DfT forecasts for growth in aviation have been downgraded every single time, as have job forecasts from building more capacity.

Really, that should give us a message – the only way is down!

To pretend that aviation can keep growing across the country (and indeed the world) in the face of all the pressure on the environment from resource crunches and the dire financial situation most of Europe is in is crazy. Add to this the growing opposition to people’s quality of life being negatively affected by noise and air pollution, and, above all, aviation’s impact of climate change emissions, the message has to go out loud and clear – there needs to be a properly balanced policy on aviation; and that is not the oxymoron the airports want us to believe –

I made many of these points in an interview with Adrian Goldberg on BBC Radio WM yesterday , which is available on listen again until next Monday (Monday 11th – 20 minutes into the programme).


Joe Peacock


Blog by John Stewart


Falling Standards

How the Standard has become the cheerleader for the aviation industry since its new editor took over

The London Evening Standard has become the cheerleader for the aviation industry. You can date it to the time Sarah Sands took over as editor on 30th March.


The judgment of the Standard’s new editor, Sarah Sands, is being questioned

In the month before Sands took over the Standard included the balanced mix of articles you would expect from a paper reflecting the diverse range of views in London:

London’s airports and a string of broken promises – 27 March – Simon Jenkins – “Signs that Heathrow may no longer be safe from a third runway highlight the power of lobbies to sway politicians”

Keep an open mind on London’s airports – 26 March

Heathrow row takes off again as Tory says third runway’s back on – 26 March

Key aviation paper delayed for rethink – 22 March

More flights to serve the South-East, says Cameron – 19 March

A new runway is the last thing Heathrow needs – 9 March – Zac Goldsmith

Accept that third runway is off, Heathrow bosses told – 6 March

If UK growth is to increase, Heathrow must expand – 5 March – Irvin Seltzer


That balance went after Sands became editor as one article after another promoted the industry view that extra capacity was needed in London and the South East:  It even included a Standard reporter being sent out to Hong Kong to highlight the fast link there exists between the offshore airport and the centre of Hong Kong.

The Sands’ Standard has been careful not to plump for a 3rd runway at Heathrow.  It has contented itself with making the case for more capacity in London and the South East, almost the identical message the aviation industry has being pumping out for months.

Like the industry, the Standard has failed to come up with convincing new evidence that this additional capacity is required for the health of UK plc. But that is not the point of the campaign. It is simply a campaign to alter the climate of opinion.  It aims to change perceptions. It is a marketing exercise based on sound-bites rather than sound solutions.

We understand that a number of the first-class journalists the Standard employs are unhappy the way the paper is being used. Sands herself, thought to be prickly to criticism of where she is taking the paper, has remained silent.

Sands will be acutely aware that she has much to prove at the Standard. Her last stint as editor of a newspaper ended in disaster when she was sacked by the Sunday Telegraph after just 9 months in charge in 2006.

She said on becoming its editor that the Telegraph should be “like an iPod – full of your favourite things”. But, in an abrupt move, after just eight months and 20 days in post, Sands was sacked as editor of the newspaper on 7 March 2006 and replaced by Patience Wheatcroft.  Subsequently, many of her changes under her editorship were reversed.

Sands will also be aware that she has to prove she is a political heavyweight. Her speciality has been in more lightweight features.

In her first few months as editor, with the deluge of one-sided aviation articles, it seems she has failed to grasp the political reality that many of her paper’s readers have a much more balanced view of airport expansion than is being portrayed in the paper.


John Stewart

NGOs write to aviation Minister, asking that public money is NOT used for SAF research and development

Ten environmental organisations, that are concerned about the environmental impact of aviation, have sent a public letter to the Transport Minister, Mark Harper, asking that development of allegedly "sustainable" aviation fuels should NOT be given public funding. The organisations say it would be grossly unfair for taxpayer money to be given to this, bearing in mind that a majority of people in the UK either do not fly in any one year, or take just one return flight. The majority of flights are taken by a minority, more affluent than average. The letter says that  “Industry-funded” should mean that the costs of any revenue support mechanism should be paid for solely by the aviation sector.  Also that taxes such as Air Passenger Duty should not be earmarked for SAF research, but go towards public funding. They say that at no point should there be any potential for Treasury money to be used to cover any scheme costs; the scheme should be administered by a body that is not the Treasury, similar to how the Low Carbon Contracts Company operates regarding renewable energy generation.

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London City airport expansion plans rejected by Newham – it will appeal to the GLA

London City airport is considering next steps after its local council, Newham, rejected its expansion plans.  The airport wants to raise annual passenger numbers from 6.5 million to 9 million by extending the operating hours on Saturdays, until 6.30pm.  There would also be 3 additional early morning flights on weekdays.  Concerns were raised over increased noise pollution and emissions if extra flights were allowed.  Flights are not allowed from 12.30pm Saturdays to 12.30pm Sundays to provide respite for nearby residents under a long-standing curfew. The airport says it needs more flights to cope with post-Covid passenger demand, with more destinations, especially on Saturdays.  The council considers that the extra flights would “result in a materially new and substantial harm” through noise pollution. The application will now be referred to the Greater London Authority for a final decision. John Stewart, of HACAN East said "People value the weekend break from the noise. It was brought in because people live so close to the airport. Newham Council was right to reject the proposal to eat into it."

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Doncaster Council considers leasing closed Doncaster Sheffield Airport at considerable expense from Peel

Doncaster Council could lease Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA), which closed recently, from its owners, Peel L&P, under plans being considered. The airport was wound down by Peel in November 2022, citing the financial viability of the site.  At a meeting later this month, the council is set to discuss ring-fencing more than £3m for a compulsory purchase order to buy the airport. The council said Peel had recently offered a lease of the airport.  The council hopes to reopen the site, and provide jobs.  The order to potentially buy DSA from Peel is expected to initially cost up to £3.1m in legal costs. A report looking at what can be done to reopen the airport is set to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on 12 April. The  plan is for the area around the airport to contain a cluster of businesses to compliment the site. The Mayor of Doncaster said, rather over-optimistically, that the airport "has the potential to be the jewel in the crown of the Doncaster and South Yorkshire economy." In fact, it will generally just provide holiday flights, taking local residents to spend their money abroad. 

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Royal Society report on novel aviation fuels – no option other than cutting demand for flying

The UK government has been promoting the idea of "guilt-free flying" in a few years time. Now a report from the Royal Society says (as has been well known by anyone who properly investigated the issue!) that there is currently no single, clear alternative to traditional fuel. Switching to so-called "sustainable" fuel is key to the government's aim to reach "jet zero" flying by 2050. Realistically, there will be no significant impact on reducing aviation CO2 from electric planes, or hydrogen. Small economies and efficiencies by airlines can only make a small dent, while demand for flights is expected to increase. The Royal Society looked at options for "greener" fuels to replace the 12.3m tonnes of jet fuel used annually in the UK. They conclude that to produce biofuels for UK aviation would require half of Britain's farming land, putting severe pressure on food supplies and nature. There is not enough genuinely low carbon electricity to produce much "green" hydrogen. The Royal Society says research and development is required to understand and mitigate the non-CO2 climate impacts of all the alternative fuel options. But it stops short of the obvious solution to reducing aviation carbon emissions - reducing the demand for air travel, and not allowing it to grow.

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Stansted Airport refuses £1.4m costs offer from Uttlesford Council and asks for £2.2m

Stansted Airport has rejected Uttlesford District Council's offer of £1.4million to cover its legal costs for an appeal over its plan for expansion to 43m passengers a year. The airport has instead made a counter-offer of £2.2m to Uttlesford. The council was ordered to pay the airport’s legal costs after it lost an appeal against the airport's plan in May 2021.  It voted to offer the airport £1.4m, including £1m paid on account. According to the report, Stansted's counter-offer also includes the £1m already paid on account, but not legal costs associated with the settlement negotiations. Councillors will meet on 11th October to vote on a revised offer to the airport of £2.05m. According to the report, this would consist of £2m in respect of the claim for costs itself and £50,000 of interest. It could also make a second “all-in” offer of £2.1m, which would include all interest and costs incurred by Stansted Airport in negotiating the settlement.  It is wrong that a local council should have to pay so much of its taxpayers' money, to try to defend its residents against negative impacts of a large company.  And that councils are then too afraid to challenge. Uttlesford will then have far less money with which to provide services to residents. 

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Heathrow’s Spanish owner Ferrovial considers selling stake if airport does not make enough money

Ferrovial, which owns 25% of Heathrow, is considering selling its stake. A French investor, Ardian - which has other airport interests - might buy it. Ferrovial considers it has not made, and is not making, enough money from Heathrow.  It is displeased by the CAA ruling, that Heathrow cannot hugely increase its landing fees charged per passenger at Heathrow. Heathrow wanted to put this up to over £40 per person, but recently the CAA ruled that it will have to fall from £30.19 to £26.31 by 2026, despite a furious lobbying effort by the airport. Ferrovial is understood to have been approached by Ardian, a Paris-based private equity firm, about a possible joint deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. Ardian held a 49% stake in Luton airport between 2013 and 2018.  Ferrovial has said it would be sceptical about committing further funding to Heathrow if the airport cannot get CAA agreement on charges.  The lower landing charges are a disincentive to new investors, who fear low profits.  Experts consider that any decision to cut off funding was likely to scupper plans for a 3rd runway, with progress already disrupted by a sharp fall in air travel during the pandemic and huge debts.

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TUI to offer train tickets instead of short-haul flights to 6 cities, from the Netherlands

Holiday company TUI will replace plane seats with train tickets on some routes from the Netherlands, in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint (while continuing to encourage more people to fly on holidays). Passengers booking Tui city breaks will be offered the chance to travel by rail from the Netherlands to six European cities - to Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Milan and Florence. The move will be launched by TUI’s Dutch division as part of a collaboration with train travel start-up Green City Trip.  Flight tickets will still be available for those routes.

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SNP accused of ‘greenwashing backroom deal’ over higher Scottish aviation CO2 if Heathrow expands

Documents have shown that the Scottish Government has adopted aviation industry claims that expanding Heathrow would not lead to increased CO2 emissions from Scotland.  Logically, if there are many more flights between Scottish airports and Heathrow, that would increase Scotland's aviation carbon emissions. A memo prepared for Scotland's First Minister last October, obtained by The Ferret, claims that “there is nothing to suggest that LHR [Heathrow] expansion will have a negative impact on emissions attributable to Scotland”. Environmental groups say it is “worrying to see how closely aligned the Scottish Government appears to be with the aviation lobby,” and argue that the document “casts doubt on how serious the Scottish Government is about reaching its climate targets”. Claims that emissions would not rise are based on the aviation sector's over-optimistic hopes that remarkable novel fuels will soon be produced (or electric planes will fly using zero-carbon electricity ....) that will mean flying will no longer emit so much carbon. The AEF said the claim that Scotland’s emissions wouldn’t increase as a result of a third runway “suggest[s] some very odd carbon accounting somewhere along the line”.

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Aviation demand in Scotland needs to fall by one third by 2030 to hit climate aims

The SNP Transport Minister Graeme Dey has demanded “radical behavioural change” in Scots’ transport choices – amid a warning that journeys by both plane and car will need to be permanently cut to end the country’s contribution to the climate crisis. There will need to be a significant reduction in demand for air travel, and technology alone will not achieve the transformational change required.  There needs to be a reduction of 33% in the number flight kilometres travelled, between the number in 2019 and 2030. Transport is Scotland’s biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but there is little progress in making cuts.  The SNP government has pledged to cut GHG emissions by 75% by 2030 and to become carbon "net zero" by 2045 (5 years ahead of the UK). An independent report, by consultancy Element Energy, says transformational change in individual and business behaviour, alongside shifting travel choices will be needed as well as advances in technology. The SNP Government has been told to rip up its contract with Heathrow which supports it building a 3rd runway, in light of the findings.

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Leeds Bradford Airport expansion plans – legal arguments from GALBA about GHG emissions

Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) wants to expand from 4 million passengers per year to 7 million by 2030. LBA has submitted a planning application to Leeds City Council (LCC) seeking permission to extend daytime flying hours, allow more flights at night, and build a new passenger terminal. The local campaign, Group for Action on LBA (GALBA) is fighting this application, with a particular focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Now LCC has been given legal advice on how councillors should consider the CO2 and GHG emissions from the expansion. This says LCC does not need to take these into account, only the emissions from the airport itself. The advice states that emissions from UK domestic flights are covered by the UK carbon budgets, and those from international flights are (theoretically) covered by the UN’s CORSIA offsetting scheme. GALBA does not accept that the GHG from expansion should be ignored in the local planning decision on the airport. GALBA's barrister Estelle Dehon, of Cornerstone Barristers, has sent advice to all councillors, that permission cannot be granted unless the likely significant impact of the proposal on climate change is understood. See details of the arguments.

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Aviation’s contribution to global warming has doubled since 2000

The most comprehensive analysis so far of how much warming is caused by aeroplanes has found that flying’s contribution to global warming nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018. Rapid growth is far outpacing efforts to reduce its contribution. “It is growing so rapidly,” says David Lee at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. “It’s just astonishing.” […]

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Edinburgh Airport to cut third of its workforce

      Edinburgh Airport to cut third of its workforce 31 July 2020 Share this with Facebook Share this with Messenger Share this with Twitter Share this with Email Share Related Topics Coronavirus pandemic Image copyrightPA MEDIAImage captionThere has been a sharp decline in the number of passengers Edinburgh Airport is to make about […]

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DfT ‘refuses to back down’ over £27bn roads legal challenge over carbon emissions

In April the Transport Action Network (TAN) revealed its intentions to launch a legal application to the High Court, as the DfT ignored environmental legislation in approving the five-year funding plan.  Now the DfT have given TAN's lawyers its official response. It has “refused to back down”.  The legal challenge by TAN was made, as a result of the judgement by the Appeal Court in February, on the Heathrow case. It ruled that the Airports National Policy Statement  (ANPS) was illegal, as proper consideration had not been given to carbon emissions and the UK's obligations under the Paris Agreement. The DfT letter claims, rather improbably, that decarbonisation will be addressed ‘at a society-wide level’ and its largest ever roads plan in fact ‘is a fully-integrated part of this wider effort to reach net zero emissions’. The legal challenge, by the same lawyers who won the Heathrow case, will proceed with the case on road building. As the courts found the ANPS was illegal, any other NPS will have to take carbon properly into account. Heathrow is appealing to the Supreme court on the February ruling, with a hearing on the 9th and 10th October. 

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Fresh indication that the government is not intending to support Heathrow expansion

The No 3rd Runway Coalition believe the Government has given its clearest hint yet that it will not support Heathrow expansion. In reply to a question put by Slough MP Tan Dhesi, the aviation minister, Kelly Tolhurst said that “The Court of Appeal has ruled that the designation of the Airports National Policy Statement has no legal effect unless and until this Government carries out a review”. The fresh use of the word “unless” implies consideration has been given to drop the project altogether.  The DfT also state that they are focussed on responding to Covid-19 at the moment, which presents further evidence that Heathrow expansion has slipped down the agenda. The Government also say that they “are carefully considering the Court of Appeal’s judgment and will set out our next steps in due course”. However, it is unclear how long is meant by “due course”. Heathrow is struggling, with few passengers, probably having to close one or more terminals, due to restrictions on air travel for an unknown period of time, due to Covid-19. A recent review of senior staff at Heathrow shows no longer a role for overseeing expansion. Heathrow now also appear not to be pushing for the "early release" of 25,000 extra flights, as this would depend on the NPS, which has now been deemed to be invalid, by the courts.

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Plans for new Lisbon airport opposed by local authorities, and the Dutch (for harm to national bird, the godwit)

There are plans to construct a new airport for Lisbon (Portugal) as the existing airport - Humberto Delgado Airport - is considered by the authorities to be full. Plans have been considered for many years, but a new airport at existing Montijo military air base, near Lisbon, got approval on 8th January 2019 when the government signed an agreement with ANA - Aeroportos de Portugal (the country's airports manager). The Montijos site is on the  Tagus estuary, a nature reserve where the godwits, a threatened species, stop off on their way from Africa to the Netherlands. There is now considerable opposition from the Netherlands, where the godwit is seen as the national bird. The planned airport would devastate the areas where godwits feed, and many birds would be culled if the airport was built, for air passenger safety. There is now political controversy about the airport, as in Portuguese law, if local councils oppose a development, it is not permitted. The government wants to over-rule this ability, as various councils led by various political parties are blocking government plans. Due to costs, TAP Air Portugal, has firmly stated it would not move to the new airport.

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ASA rule against Ryanair ad (greenwash) claim to have the lowest airline CO2 emissions

Ryanair has been accused of greenwashing after the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned an ad campaign, that tried to make out  the airline has the lowest CO2 emissions of any major airline in Europe. It has been ordered to withdraw the misleading claims about its “green” credentials. Ryanair is in fact one of the top 10 carbon emitters in the EU, due to the number of flights.  Ryanair probably has lower CO2 per passenger kilometre than many other airlines, as it has newer planes, and crams its planes full. But its rapid growth has meant its CO2 increased by 50% between 2013 and 2019. The ASA pointed out failings in the way Ryanair compared itself to other airlines, to make its carbon claims; it did not include all airlines or seating density; it did not substantiate its claims.  The growth of Ryanair, and of air travel in general, in Europe has been due to the sector paying no jet fuel tax, making flying artificially cheap. The CO2 emissions of all flights departing from EU airports have grown from being 1.4% of total EU emissions in 1990 to 3.7% today.

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Sadiq Khan announces green new deal for London if re-elected in May, and says Heathrow 3rd runway would be “catastrophic”

Sadiq Khan has announced that he would introduce a green new deal for London and make the city carbon-neutral by 2030 if re-elected in May this year.  He also outlined the steps that he would take in the future to combat the climate crisis, and air pollution. He said his plans "will help to address the inequality that exists in our city and create the green jobs and industry that can sustain our communities in the future.” Asked about Heathrow expansion, Sadiq Khan said: “A new runway at Heathrow would be catastrophic… I think that a new runway at Heathrow won’t happen for the foreseeable future because of the legal challenges going ahead.”  The election for Mayor will be on 7th May, and is a two-horse race between Sadiq and the Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey.  Other cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo have made similar commitments to become carbon-neutral.

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Heathrow timetable – it will not submit its DCO till end of 2020 at earliest; final decision might be early 2022

The earliest the Transport Secretary (currently Grant Shapps) could make a decision on the 3rd runway would be the end of 2021, or perhaps early 2022. The Standard said it might be the end of 2020. That is not possible.  Heathrow hopes to submit its DCO (Development Consent Order) to the Planning Inspectorate at the end of 2020, or it could be delayed into 2021 if they run into problems meeting the requirements of the Airports National Policy Statement.  The Planning Inspectorate will launch an inquiry which takes 9 months and then the Inspector will take 3 months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State - who then gets to make a decision. There is no mechanism for the Secretary of State to make a decision before the conclusion of the planning inquiry unless the government enacts a review under section 6 of the Planning Act 2008 if it feels "there has been a significant change in any circumstances on the basis of which any of the policies set out in the statement was decided."

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Nicola Sturgeon defends just “reviewing” support for Heathrow 3rd runway, not yet opposing it

The Scottish Government signed a memorandum of understanding with London Heathrow Airport in 2016, backing a 3rd runway in exchange for commitments to Scotland, including creating up to 16,000 new jobs in England. [That figure was always absolute nonsense, based on incorrect extrapolations from incorrect data showing inflated alleged financial benefits of the runway]. Now Nicola Sturgeon has defended the Scottish Government's stance on the runway, to just review its decision to support it - hoping Scotland would get some economic benefits, eventually. But in view of climate concerns, and the huge increase in aviation CO2 the 3rd runway would generate, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie raised the matter, and asked why Nicola Sturgeon is continuing to review the issue, instead of ending the SNP's support. He said:  "Climate change has brought Zambia to the brink of famine, Australia has been burning since September, the ice caps continue to melt. Yet the First Minister continues to support Heathrow expansion." The Scottish Government will bring forward an updated draft climate change plan by the end of April.

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Noise body ICCAN recognises problems with the SoNA noise survey, and recommends new, better, regular noise surveys

One of the key surveys on attitudes to aircraft noise was the SoNA study, Survey of Noise Attitudes 2014, carried out by the CAA.  The SoNA study found people were more annoyed by noise, and more sensitive to it, than another study in 1985.  Some degree of annoyance and adverse effects were found down to 51dB LAeq 16hr. The conventional level of averaged noise considered a problem is 57 dB LAeq. But critics have said the study was flawed, as it only considered populations that had already experienced high levels of aviation noise, rather than communities that had been impacted for the first time, or had newly been exposed to a greater intensification of noise. With the expansion of aviation in the UK, there are many areas and hundreds of thousands of people, who are being newly exposed to plane noise. The noise body ICCAN has realised there is a problem with SoNA. It recommends that a new, regular attitudinal survey is begun before the end of 2021, and repeated frequently. And that "the new surveys should be commissioned, run and analysed independent of Government, regulators and industry. We consider it appropriate for ICCAN to take on this role, working closely with relevant stakeholders."

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