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% – http://mediacentre.heathrowairport.com/Press-releases/New-Poll-Growing-local-support-for-Heathrow-expansion-ab2.aspx . They have now crafted huge adverts around the findings.
The reliability of the Populus polls has been questioned because of the way in which they have been conducted – http://hacan.org.uk/blog/?p=316 – 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 – http://hacan.org.uk/blog/?p=281
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 inLondonand the South East who remain firmly opposed to expansion.