Packed public meeting in Brentford to discuss the future of Heathrow

Over a hundred people packed Brentford Methodist Church last Wednesday (4th March) to consider the proposals for extra airport capacity in the South East at the meeting I organised in advance of the Davies Commission’s report

Heathrow is a massive issue for this constituency – it’s the major driver for our economy and source of jobs, but its impact has major implications for the quality of life here. I have been campaigning for years to

protect the people of this constituency from increased noise and pollution. With the Airports Commission now considering the responses to the short-list of three proposals – I organised this meeting so that the proposers could make their case, and HACAN, Heathrow’s noise action group, could also have their say.

Nigel Milton from Heathrow Airport described their proposal of an additional runway close to the northern runway, but set further west than the current ones and further south than the last proposal. Whilst it would no longer involve the demolition of the barn at Harmondsworth, it would involve tunnelling the M25. Flights would increase from the current 480,000 cap to up to 740,000 per year. The proposal would mean that a new set of people would be impacted by aircraft noise, particularly in Chiswick, Brentford, Osterley and Heston. Heathrow are offering an insulation scheme that is more generous than the current scheme, additional rail lines and more job and training opportunities for unemployed young people in the area.

Kevin Harman, from Heathrow Hub Ltd presented the alternative Heathrow expansion proposal which plans to double the length of the current north runway then divide it in two to create a third runway and also increase the number of flights to up to 700,000. He said there would be no new communities within the noise footprint, and that the Heathrow Hub would cost significantly less than Heathrow Airport’s plan. He committed to cut night flights completely before 6am and vary the approach paths.

Charles Kirwan-Taylor explained that a second runway at Gatwick would be half the price of the Heathrow options, would need no public subsidy and the construction would be much simpler and more deliverable than either Heathrow option. Whereas 300,000 more people would live in a noisy area (within the 55 LDen noise contour) if Heathrow were to expand, the numbers of residents affected around Gatwick would increase from the current 9,500 to 37,000 – 5% of those affected around here. Gatwick is also committed to provide full insulation to homes up to 15km from the airport, and to pay the Council Tax for those most affected whilst they still live in their homes.

Mr Kirwan-Taylor contested the “hub airport” notion – international aviation growth will be point-to-point travel so new capacity needs to serve London as a destination. Interlining passengers don’t benefit the UK economy and anyway the future generations of planes will be super-long distance and the hub airports of the future will be in the middle-east. As planes get quieter (if, indeed that does happen) then not expanding at Heathrow is the opportunity to significantly improve the noise climate around here. Until now, in the debate around expansion, the only options have been expand Heathrow or do nothing. Now that Gatwick is a separate company, there are two real options, Heathrow or Gatwick.

With the prospect of half a million more planes per annum John Stewart of HACAN, said there is no way Heathrow could be quieter. He asked if the justification for disrupting the lives of around 300,000 more people was adequate. Let’s not confuse the economic arguments for runway expansion with the commercial needs of Heathrow plc, and he seriously questions whether the third runway is essential for the economic prosperity of London and the South East. There is no evidence to suggest that it is.

After the proposals had been made there were comments and questions from the floor – including representatives of Stop Heathrow Campaign, Hounslow Chamber of Commerce, Friends of the Earth and local residents associations.

The biggest issue raised was noise, with pollution, traffic congestion and housing shortages also being raised as reasons why Heathrow should not expand. Heathrow’s offers of more insulation, jobs, training and surface access could be provided now, rather than be offered as sweeteners in exchange for massive expansion.

I have long campaigned for a better not bigger Heathrow but I also believe that there is informed local debate about the issues and hope this meeting extends people’s knowledge about the issues. Here is the link to the summary of my submission to the Airports Commission.

For more information:
Heathrow Third Runway
Heathrow Hub
Gatwick 2nd Runway
HACAN