The significance of the Sunday Times expose of Back Heathrow’s methods


by John Stewart

The Sunday Times expose of Back Heathrow’s methods is significant – . Not because Back Heathrow has hidden the fact it has received considerable funding from Heathrow Airport.  It has made it clear from the early days that Heathrow had put money in.  Much more because the Sunday Times reveals how Back Heathrow fails to spell out to the public it is trying to influence where its funding comes from.  As the Sunday Times said, “Three of the four newsletters delivered during the past year fail to disclose that Back Heathrow is funded by the airport.”

This matters.  If we get a leaflet through our door this Christmas extolling the virtues of Sainsbury’s mince pies over other brands, we will take much more notice of it if we believe it comes from a neutral body.  Similarly, when a Back Heathrow leaflet warns that “114,000 jobs are at risk if Heathrow shuts down”, we are much more likely to be concerned if we believe Back Heathrow is a neutral body.

 Concerned people sign up to Back Heathrow.  Back Heathrow then can claim 50,000 supporters.  The impression is given to politicians that there is growing support for a third runway at Heathrow.

 The reality is different.  There is no hard evidence that support for a 3rd runway is growing (or declining).  We spelt this out in a blog in May of this year –

“Last week Heathrow Airport claimed that there was more support now for a 3rd runway than when it was proposed by the last Labour Government.  It cited a recent opinion poll of more than 1,000 local residents by Populus which showed 48% are in favour of a third runway while 34% oppose:  The reality is different.  HACAN unearthed a Populus poll which revealed that in 2007 50% supported a 3rd runway and 30% against were against:

 Support for expansion has always hovered just under 50%, with around a third of people remaining firmly opposed.  In actual numbers, that means hundreds of thousands of people don’t want expansion.  That was enough to kill it off last time.  Back Heathrow need to give politicians the impression that has changed; that a 3rd runway is deliverable.  And they are prepared to use some questionable methods to do so.

Why it’s not necessarily nimby to oppose Heathrow expansion

2nd November 2014

by John Stewart

I would argue that it is not Nimby to oppose expansion at Heathrow.  That’s not to say that there are a lot of people opposing it on Nimby grounds. 

But the day after the Observer revealed that many in the current cabinet are against a third runway – … – it is worth saying that a strong case can be made against Heathrow expansion on grounds that has very little to do with Nimbyism.

 Many of the arguments have been well-rehearsed.  

According to the European Commission, there are at least 720,000 people living under the Heathrow flight paths; that is 28% of all people impacted by aircraft noise across Europe.

The Heathrow flight paths go over more deprived areas (as well as some of the richest) than any other UK airport (though, calculated by percentage of the population of the city affected, Glasgow may be higher)

Air Pollution levels around Heathrow tend to be stubbornly above the EU legal limits

And the economic case for Heathrow expansion is not, in my view, a game-changer.  More business people and tourists fly into London each year than fly to any other city in the world.  Most have no preference which airport they use. This trend will continue whether or not a third runway is built at Heathrow.  Read more in this blog  click here  and click here

The non-nimby case against Heathrow expansion is expanded on the HACAN website:

 To be fair to Heathrow, and much of the aviation industry, they have never accused HACAN of being nimby.  The accusation tends to come from a myriad of individuals.

 Quite simply, I would not be prepared to lead a nimby campaign.  I have watched nimbys in action and I don’t like what I see.  I get particularly irriated by nimbys picking and choosing arguments to ‘support’ their case when they really mean ‘not in my backyard’.

 Let’s not lower the Heathrow argument to nimbyism.  An economic argument can be made for the expansion of Heathrow.  I believe a stronger overall argument can be made against it.  The fact that leading politicians of all parties – some of them with no constituency interest in the matter – have come out against expansion re-enforces my view there is a powerful (non-nimby) case against a 3rd runway.  I urge all those who so freely throw around the accusation of nimbyism to join in the debate that is taking place.

Flight Paths Matter: there is a chance we can get them right


by John Stewart

 Recent events have illustrated how much flight paths matter.  As Mark Hookham put it in today’s Sunday Times “low-flying aeroplanes are causing uproar in affluent commuter towns and idyllic villages across Britain as airports test new flight paths” – Suburbia in revolt at new f light paths

Unless you are a Harmondsworth resident whose home is threatened by a third runway or an Indian farmer whose land is taken for a new airport, flight paths are what is likely to matter most to you.  If planes could land and take off perpendicularly most local objections would fade away.

Flight paths are the motorways of the sky.  Building new ones or doubling the traffic on existing ones will always bring a flood of complaints.  It happened in Ascot and Teddington in recent months.  Eighteen years ago it happened in Brixton, Stockwell and Clapham when landing procedures were tightened up.  Aviation Minister Glenda Jackson told the House of Commons (28/10/97): “when the airport is busy, which is for much of the day, aircraft will join the ILS [the final descent path] further east over Battersea, Brixton or Lewisham.”  Ms Jackson, the least sympathetic of recent aviation ministers, refused to meet with residents.

One resident wrote at the time: “I’ve lived in Clapham North at the same address for almost 20 years.  Until 3 years ago one hardly noticed the planes, apart from Concorde, of course.  Then in summer ’95, as if someone somewhere had flicked a switch, the occasional drone became a remorseless whine.  It was like an aerial motorway, open from early morning till at least mid-evening.”

 And flight paths are going to change again.  This time driven by the new computer technology which enables planes to be guided more precisely when landing and taking off.  The industry believes this will allow it to make more efficient use of airspace, thus saving on fuel, cutting emissions and reducing delays.

 The American airports have gone for the easy option and concentrated flights on a very few number of routes.  This has resulted in big protests in places like Chicago:  London City Airport, to its shame, is proposing to do the same thing:

 I believe concentration is indefensible in built-up areas.  It is asking the chosen communities to bear all the pain.  And, whenever surveys are done, they show that people prefer the flight paths to be shared, so that everybody gets a break – some respite – from the noise.  That doesn’t mean piling the pressure on Ascot so that other areas can get some relief.  What it does mean is finding a balance so that the fewest number people possible are truly disturbed by the noise.

 I would argue the current situation across huge swathes of London and the Home Counties is untenable and change can only be a good thing.  40 planes an hour an overfly the Oval Cricket Ground or Clapham Common.  This video of Vauxhall, 17 miles from Heathrow, gives a flavour of the disturbance:  A report commissioned by HACAN from the consultants Bureau Veritas found that in Ruskin Park in Camberwell, almost 20 miles from the airport, “aircraft noise dominates the local environment”.  And many under the take-off flight paths are experiencing a volume and concentraion of planes they never imagined possible twenty years ago.

 Heathrow estimates that, if they get it right, most communities could get relief from the noise 50% or even 75% of the time.  In an attempt to get an answer which works both for the industry and for as many residents as possible, Heathrow is doing more pre-planning and conducting more experiments than any other airport in the world before it puts its final proposal out to public consultation.

The devil will be in the detail and there will be areas where ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – maybe parts of West London which enjoy runway alternation.  And real care should be taken to avoid the very few plane-free ‘oases’ which still exist.  But there is a fighting chance of getting it right and banishing the dark era Glenda Jackson helped usher in nearly 20 years ago. 

Ms Jackson is standing down at the next General Election.

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”.    

There are at least 6 reasons to oppose a 3rd runway at Heathrow

Here they are (in no particular order):

1. 725,000 live under the Heathrow flightpaths. (click on table to enlarge)

Numbers under Heathrow's flight paths

eathrow2. It is not essential for London economy: read why 

3. London is Europe’s most overflown city: compare plane landing at Barcelona 

4. Heathrow the only major UK airport where air pollution levels in a few areas remain stubbornly above EU legal limits

5. M25 between junctions 14 and 15 (Heathrow to the M4) the busiest motorway in UK. …

6. At least 750 homes would be demolished. Lives disturbed and communities destroyed.

Third Runway at Heathrow not essential to London’s economy


by John Stewart

On the face of it, it may seem odd to cite the economy as a reason why Heathrow does not need a third runway.  After all, many in business back a third runway.  And it is the main reason Heathrow Airport gives for promoting one.

Let’s acknowledge up front that a 3rd runway would bring economic benefits.  And that it would improve connections for business to key markets in the world’s emerging economies – places like China, India and Brazil.

 But that is very different to saying that a 3rd runway is essential to London’s economy.  There is clear evidence it is not. 

Only today, the influential Forbes international survey named London as the top city in the world for business – without a third runway. It is worth reading what, Joel Kotkin, the author of the Forbes report wrote: “London is not only the historic capital of the English language, which contributes to its status as a powerful media hub and major advertising centre, but it’s also the birthplace of the cultural, legal and business practices that define global capitalism. The city has upward of 3,000 tech startups, as well as Google’s largest office outsideSilicon Valley. Compared to New York, it is also time-zone advantaged for doing business in Asia, and has the second best global air connections of any city after Dubai, with non-stop flights at least three times a week to 89 per cent of global cities outside of its home region of Europe.”

The Forbes survey gives added weight to what a number of commentators have been saying for some time.  To meet current growth projections London and the South East may need a new runway by 2030 but it need not be at Heathrow.

The main reason the London economy doesn’t depend on Heathrow expanding is this:  more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other city in the world.  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 six airports and seven runways.  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.

As the Forbes survey so clearly indicated,London is the hub.  The vitality of London is what draws business people and tourists in world-beating numbers.  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 flock to the capital in even larger numbers, drawn by the magnetic pull of London. A third runway at Heathrow may boost the coffers of Heathrow Airport’s foreign owners.  It is not, though, essential for the health of London economy.

*  a hub airport is one where passengers can change planes – for example, because there are few direct flights from Copenhagen to New York, many people from Copenhagen will fly to Heathrow and then transfer on to a New York flight.





Populus, Heathrow’s favourite pollster, are in trouble over their methods


By John Stewart

 Populus, Heathrow’s favourite pollster, are in trouble.  Their questionable methods have been exposed in a poll they did for the fracking industry. Thie poll published on Monday, carried out for UK Onshore Oil and Gas, was described by a polling expert as ‘one of the most misleading poll findings I’ve ever seen’.

And today the pressure on Populus has increased with the publication of a Government-funded survey which shows markedly different results to the Populus poll.  The Government survey found  that only 25% of people supported fracking compared to the Populus poll which claimed 57% support.

The headline in today’s Times gets to the heart of it: Public back fracking . . . depending on how you ask the question …  Ben Webster, the Times environment editor, puts it like this in his article: “The questions about fracking in the two surveys were posed in very different ways. The survey commissioned byUK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) asked several questions aboutBritain’s need for investment and greater energy security before the key question on fracking.  The question included a long preamble explaining the “tiny fractures” involved and how shale gas could “heat theUK’s homes for over 100 years”.  The energy department survey included a brief explanation of fracking as “a process of pumping water at high pressure into shale”,then asked people to state their level of support for it”.

 Polling expert Leo Barasi wrote in Noise of the Crowd  about the Populus poll: “Short of faking results or fiddling the weights or sample (which this poll doesn’t), there are two ways to get a poll to give the answers you want. You can ask a series of leading questions that get respondents thinking the way you want them to, then ask the question you’re really interested in. Or you can word the questions so respondents only see half the argument. This poll does both”.

Barasi says: “This isn’t an attempt to find out what the public think about fracking. It’s message testing. That’s what political candidates or businesses do before launching a campaign. They fire a load of messages at respondents to see how much support they could gain in a theoretical world where only their view is heard, and which arguments are most effective. It’s a useful technique for finding out how people might respond to your arguments.  But it’s not supposed to represent what people actually think now”.

The criticism of Populus has important implications for Heathrow.  The airport has consistent commissioned polls from Populus in an attempt to show support for a third runway is growing.

In May 2014 Heathrow Airport claimed, on the basis of a Populus poll,  that there was more support now for a 3rd runway than when it was proposed by the last Labour Government.  The poll claimed to show 48% were in favour of a third runway while 34% opposed.

In an uncanny parallel with the fracking results, these Populus results were flatly contradicted by referenda and surveys carried out by Hillingdon, Richmond and Hounslow local authorities which found around 72% of residents opposed a 3rd runway:

All the polls done by Populus for Heathrow must now be regarded with suspicion.  In December last year Heathrow claimed “people inWest London are more likely to vote for their MP if they support Heathrow expansion than if they oppose a third runway according to new research from independent polling company Populus”. .  This is in flat contradiction to what MPs are telling us they are hearing on the doorstep and reading in their mail.

Heathrow need now to publish not just the questions Populus are asking people but also the ‘spiel’ leading up to the questions.  Unless they can convince us all that they are not leading people to their chosen answer, their results can only be regarded as fiction rather than fact… be filed alongside this entertaining incident from Yes Minister 

Gatwick leaked strategy more embarrassing for Heathrow

11th August 2014

blog by John Stewart

I was clearly travelling on the wrong train.  When I was on the Eurostar a good piece by Mark Hookham in the Sunday Times revealed that a dossier outlining Gatwick’s secret lobbying strategy had been left on a train. …

Somewhat embarrassing for Gatwick but I suspect more concerning for Heathrow.  What will worry Heathrow is the revelation of yet another study challenging its claims that the number of people disturbed by noise around the airport will fall after a third runway is built.  Heathrow claims the number of people “significantly annoyed” by aircraft noise would drop from the current 237,350 to between 187,000 and 202,900, even with an additional runway, thanks to quieter aircraft and steeper landing approaches.

According to the dossier, the Gatwick-commissioned report shows the number of people affected by noise at Heathrow would actually increase by 20,650 to 258,000 once the runway was at its full capacity.  It further says the figure does not take into account the expected fall in the number of people exposed to noise in future years if Heathrow remained a two-runway airport. Once this is included, it claims, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) modelling shows around 101,000 extra people would actually be affected by the noise of an expanded Heathrow.

This comes on top of a study released by the London Mayor’s office earlier this year which showed that, at full capacity, over one million people will be impacted by a 3 runway Heathrow, from 725,000 today.

What’s rather confusing is that Gatwick, Heathrow and the Mayor all claim their figures are based on work carried out by the CAA.  And they are all correct!  The CAA tried to defend its role to the Sunday Times: “Different results occur depending on the traffic forecasts, aircraft types and the routes they fly and population densities provided to us.”  In other words, the CAA pretty uncritically feeds the data given to it into its noise model.

Of course Gatwick, Heathrow and the Mayor are all trying to influence Howard Davies and the Airports Commission.  In its Interim Report, published at the end of last year, Davies appeared to accept many of Heathrow’s noise figures.  Now those figures are being challenged by study after study.  Will Sir Howard now be tempted to send his team on railway holidays across the UK this August?







Compensation comes at a high cost for Heathrow


By John Stewart

HACAN gets a constant stream of emails from people throughout the year but rarely have we been deluged with so many angry emails as we have had over the consultation on compensation launched by Heathrow last week.

Here’s a pretty typical email: 

Dear Hacan

I have just received this leaflet from Heathrow which you are probably aware about.  What I would really like to do is grab it, shove it up their arses, bang their heads together and scream ” No I don’t want another f***ing runway” !

What is hacan’s view of this? Should we be going to these sham meetings and be telling Heathrow what we think or should they be picketed?

Any other ideas?

What has sparked the fury is the feeling people are being steamrollered into accepting the fact that a third runway is inevitable at a time when the Government has made no decision on the future of Heathrow.  They are simply not prepared to discuss compensation arising from a third runway they simply don’t want.

It is a fury that is barely suppressed at the best of times.  For many residents Heathrow is still associated with BAA’s broken promises:  terminal 4 will be the last major development; terminal 5 will not lead to a 3rd runway etc. etc.  The current management at Heathrow is painfully aware of that legacy and I believe is making real attempts to adopt a more open approach.  But past broken promises are still in the forefront of many residents’ minds, particularly those who bought their properties believing them to be true.

This consultation on compensation is not breaking any promises but is putting the cart of compensation to before the horse: whether the Government will come down in favour of a third runway.  That decision is at least a year away.

For people whose homes would be demolished Heathrow is offering much more generous terms than it is required to do so by law.  It is offering the price of the property (pre-blight), plus 25% plus stamp duty, plus removal costs.

But Heathrow is always going to struggle to offer adequate compensation to all residents under the flight paths, simply because there are so many of them.  It cannot match the Charles de Gaulle scheme where everybody within the 55 Lden contour (the area where the EU considers noise can be a problem) some form of compensation of mitigation.   (The CAA: Managing Aviation Noise -  Page 50: “In France, there is a statutory scheme to insulate all housing within the 55 dB Lden contour”.)  At Heathrow, that would mean offering at least 725,000 people something.

Equally to match Gatwick’s compensation offer would cost Heathrow billions.  At the end of last week Gatwick spelt out what it is offering residents:

The third runway comes at a high price for residents and the wider environment.  It may turn out also be to be too costly for Heathrow in terms of it being able to provide adequate compensation. 

Heathrow Airport – a chance to become history makers?


By John Stewart

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 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.

For residents on the ground the all-important question is whether the new technology is used to concentrate flight paths over particular communities or share the noise over a wider area. America appears to be going for concentration, generating significant protests in places likeChicago andNew York.

My own view is that concentration, certainly at big urban airports, is deeply inequitable.  At somewhere like Heathrow or Frankfurt it potentially means non-stop flying, with a plane thundering over every 90 seconds throughout the day.

All the evidence shows that, when asked, communities prefer sharing the pain rather than concentration.  That was the view ofSydney residents after their controversial third runway opened.  And it is also what is emerging from research whichHeathrowAirport is carrying out.

It is becoming clear that Heathrow is coming down on the side of sharing rather than concentration.  Last week it published detailed plans of how it believes it can cut noise overall even if a third runway is built:  HACAN has made it clear that we doubt that is achievable.  But where we are at one with Heathrow is in our embrace of respite for residents.

The maps Heathrow published last week give many residents the first glimmer of hope they have had for nearly 20 years that the incessant noise they are experiencing may ease.   The maps show that the aircraft could use perhaps as many as four or six different flight paths before joining their final approach in the Richmond/Brentford area (considerably closer to the airport than they do at present).  Thus concentration would only take place during the last few miles as planes are lined up with the airport but these areas would continue to enjoy some respite as the aircraft would continue to switch the runways they land on during the course of the day.   There are similar dispersal maps for departures.

Of course, for Heathrow the new flight path options are part of its plans to be seen to tackle the toxic question of noise in its attempt to get a third runway.  But, Heathrow admits, its flight path ideas are not dependent on a new runway being built.  They could be implemented with a 2-runway airport.

Over the years HACAN has commissioned surveys which show places like the Oval or Kennington, almost 20 miles from Heathrow, can get more than 40 planes an hour.  This is quite simply not fair on the residents.  There are only three ways to ease their burden: to reduce the overall number of aircraft using Heathrow (highly unlikely), close Heathrow by building Boris Island or expanding Stansted (not an option that provides short-term relief) or sharing the noise burden more equitably.

The aviation industry, in looking at its flight paths, has an historic opportunity to avoid the inequity caused by traffic noise.  In my book, Why Noise Matters, I wrote that “traffic noise these days is largely a main road problem.”  This is because “the policy in theUK, and in many other European countries, has been to direct traffic away from the so-called ‘residential’ roads on to the ‘main’ roads”.  Concentration has become the norm.  Inequity has become embedded.

Heathrow Airport Ltd has the chance to become history-makers.  It looks as if it may be ready to seize that chance.