Why Heathrow is NOT the answer


When the third runway is built at Heathrow, the half of my constituents not currently under the approach path to Heathrow will find themselves in the noisiest built-up area in Europe.

But I don’t oppose the expansion of Heathrow merely because of my constituency interest. I do so because it’s too costly, too risky, and there are better solutions to the UK’s aviation capacity problems.

Of course I am committed to improving the UK’s connections with the rest the world, particularly to the emerging markets, and to creating better transport links within the country. But I don’t see that we need yet more capacity at Heathrow to achieve that. Both Heathrow and Gatwick could deliver extra capacity with an additional runway. Gatwick will do so more effectively, more quickly and at considerably less cost. The Airports Commission’s economic case for Heathrow was very marginal.

According to Department for Transport figures, London’s airports are likely to be full by 2030. Gatwick has guaranteed that it can open a second runway by 2025. Doubts surround Heathrow’s ability to deliver by then given the cost and complexity of the operation. Under pressure from the Government Heathrow has agreed to look at a scaled-down plan but that remains speculative. By opting for Heathrow, the Government risks years of challenges, uncertainty and additional costs.

The hub argument:
The ‘hub’ concept on which the Heathrow case is based is becoming outdated. Business and leisure passengers prefer direct flights and the new, more advanced aircraft coming into service can meet that need in a way that was not possible even 20 years ago. Gatwick added 20 new long-haul routes this year bringing total to 50, and it currently has flights to 10 UK airports.

The main crux of Heathrow’s argument for expansion is that only a major hub airport can provide the connectivity that the economy needs. It is foolish to deny an additional runway would bring economic benefits but there is no evidence to suggest that the health of the economy is dependent on a new runway at Heathrow. The main reason for this is that more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other world city and, on the whole, they do not mind which London airport they use.

Heathrow must be looked at in the context of all London’s airports. London has more runways than any of its European rivals, except Paris: Paris is served by 3 airports and 8 runways; Amsterdam by 1 airport and 6 runways; Frankfurt by 2 airports and 5 runways; and Madrid by 1 airport and 4 runways. London has 6 airports and 7 runways.

London, not Heathrow, is the hub which attracts people. The vitality of London is what draws business people and tourists. Because London is the magnet, Heathrow does not need to expand as a hub in order to enable more transfer passengers to provide sufficient numbers of people to fill flights to destinations across the world that would not otherwise be commercially viable. If airport capacity is provided – at whatever airport – people will continue to come to London in ever greater numbers.

Moreover, for Heathrow, it is not “expand or die”. The evidence shows that even the booming South-East could not support two mega-hubs. This is why a four runway Estuary Airport would require the closure of Heathrow. But, one new runway elsewhere in the South East would not affect Heathrow. Furthermore, a report commissioned by three local authorities found that one new runway at somewhere like Gatwick would have a broadly ‘neutral’ impact on employment at Heathrow (Ref: Heathrow Employment Impact Study, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Berkeley Hanover Consulting).

Connecting the rest of the UK:
Heathrow Airport has made a lot of promises to areas outside the South East about improving their connectivity to Heathrow.

According to the Airports Commission’s final report, the number of domestic destinations served by Heathrow will fall from 7 to 4 if a third runway is built, unless the routes are subsidised. This is because the new slots created by a third runway will be used by routes to more profitable overseas destinations. The Commission’s says: ‘without specific measures to support domestic connectivity even an expanded Heathrow may accommodate fewer domestic routes in future than the seven served currently.’ The report spells out that ‘reserving’ slots for domestic routes is not an option as it would be in breach of EU regulations. Public Service Orders would be an option, but there are restrictions on which routes could qualify, and these would be entirely dependent upon the willingness of the UK Government to provide subsidies. Heathrow has recently made much of the fact the EasyJet may come to Heathrow and create additional domestic slots but this is far from guaranteed. Gatwick, with a second runway, expects to continue to serve 7 or 8 domestic destinations.

Serving Business?:
Heathrow, like all UK airports, predominantly serves tourism. Around 70% of its passengers are tourists or Friends & Family, and more UK residents travel overseas, taking their spending power with them than overseas residents visit the UK. Heathrow’s case for expansion resting on new routes to BRIC destinations is undermined with the recent news that the Chengdu flight is to end and be replaced with a new route to New Orleans.

Airport Costs:
Although any new runway will be paid for privately, business and government have expressed concerns that the £17bn cost of a new runway at Heathrow will result in sky-high landing charges. The airlines would be forced pass these costs on to the passengers, and are saying they are not willing to. Heathrow would become the most expensive airport in Europe for passengers to use. Gatwick, by contrast, can be built for around £7.8 billion and has guaranteed to cap its landing charges.

Road and rail infrastructure costs:
The cost to the public purse of the road and rail infrastructure needed to serve an expanded Heathrow would potentially reduce Government expenditure on projects elsewhere in the country. Heathrow Airport would pay for the cost of a new runway, but much of the cost of the associated road and rail infrastructure would fall on the UK. The Airports Commission estimated the road and rail costs at over £5 billion, though Transport for London (TfL) estimates £15-£20 billion. However, Heathrow Airport Ltd has stated it is unwilling to contribute any more than £1.1 billion. The presence of the Lakeside waste incinerator, much contaminated land, the Harmondsworth detention centre and a large data centre add to the risks and the costs of the third runway. These additional costs would need to be met by taxpayers across the UK. This means yet more billions going to London and the South East. Money that could be spent in the rest of the country. On HS3 for example, across the North of England, or on the electrification of the rail lines in North Wales. Gatwick argues it would pay for any road and rail infrastructure needed for a second runway.


With runway 3 all of my constituents will be underneath the approach path to Heathrow


No airport in Europe comes close to matching the noise footprint of Heathrow. The figures are based on noise maps published by the European Commission, detailed in a report from the Civil Aviation Authority. The World Health Organisation argues that even these figures are an underestimate. At least an additional 150,000 would be under the new flight path to a 3rd runway (based on the estimates for the 2009 proposal), but 300,000 would probably be affected. Evidence built up over 20 years indicates that aircraft noise has a pervasive impact on health of people living near airports. The health costs from aircraft noise across the UK have been conservatively estimated to be in the region of £540m each year. [Aircraft Noise and Public Health – HACAN and the Aviation Environment Trust. 2016]


Air Quality:
Areas around Heathrow currently exceed EU air pollution legal limits. It is not clear if the UK will retain these limits post-Brexit but levels around Heathrow will struggle to remain within acceptable limits given its proximity to the M25 and M4. Without drastic and possibly politically undeliverable measures, air pollution at Heathrow will remain high and possibly will exceed the legal limits. There is no prospect of this happening at Gatwick.

Community Destruction:
783 homes would need to be demolished to make way for a third runway at Heathrow. Heathrow has said it would be prepared to buy up over 3,000 additional properties should the noise levels of aircraft be too high for people. Gatwick would require around 200 properties to be demolished.

Many places under the flight path are amongst the 20% most deprived in the country. There are no such areas overflown by the Stansted or Gatwick flight paths. It was concerns about social equity that prompted the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to argue in its report Protecting Jobs; Protecting the Planet (2013) that: “Decisions about transport infrastructure development should not be made solely on the basis of the political strength of neighbouring communities…those living near Heathrow are poorer than those living near Gatwick and Stansted on the whole.”

The creation of tens of thousands of jobs around Heathrow is often given as an argument for expansion. However there is doubt as to where these people will come from and where they will live. Unemployment levels are low in the surrounding boroughs (0.9% in Hounslow – Oct 2016). Whilst a high proportion of residents are in work, many are in low-paid, unskilled, often insecure jobs, many at Heathrow.

Whilst aviation is a safe form of travel, statistically there is a risk that a plane could land nearby but not on a runway. When the choice to build an additional runway is between one whose approach is over a heavily built-up city, and the other over open countryside, the relative risk to life and property should be factored in, and it has not been.

Crisis Closure: When Heathrow has been forced to close one or both runways due to a security situation or accident, the pressure on other UK airports has been immense. Adding another runway to one airport rather than spreading the load brings UK aviation over the tipping point.

Climate Change:
The Airports Commission was clear. One new runway could be built and allow the country to meets its CO2 targets on aviation. However, it made clear this was assuming relatively limited growth at other airports in the UK. If they grew faster than expected some form of carbon trading or carbon tax would be required to dampen overall demand. The Commission argued that any second runway could not be considered before 2050.

Broken Promises:
The communities and local authorities around Heathrow have been let down time and time again by promises on mitigation and expansion being broken, from the 5th terminal to the third runway. The first Civil Aviation Bill nearly allowed the loss of the valued 8 hour respite and night flight regime. There is good reason not to trust the Government or the Airport on promises about night flight ban or a fourth runway.

Ruth Cadbury MP | Member of Parliament for Brentford & Isleworth (including Chiswick, Osterley & Hounslow)
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
ruthcadburymp@parliament.uk | www.ruthcadbury.org.uk | www.facebook.com/Ruth2015Win | twitter @RuthCadbury