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. 

Davies rejects unconstrained flying; wants 1 new runway but not necessarily an expanded hub


by John Stewart

How times change.  Ten years ago the Labour Government was planning four or five new runways across the UK plus full use of existing runways at all the country’s airports.  It proposed a third runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Stansted or Gatwick, plus a second runway at Birmingham and at least one new runway inScotland.

This morning Sir Howard Davies told an excellent session of the London Assembly that he envisaged just one new runway by 2030, with the possibility of a second one by 2050.   Moreover, he made clear that any new runway would only comply with the Government’s climate change commitments if it was accompanied by an increase in the cost of flying or some other form of intervention to manage demand across theUK.

Davies said that a recommendation for a new runway did “not imply a significant increase in flying.”  His view is that, while there is an economic argument for a new runway in London and the South East, the overall increase in flight numbers across the country would need to be limited to the 55% increase that the Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s official advisers, argues is compatible with the UK’s climate commitment.

Davies is saying let Britain fly but within limits.  He said “unconstrained demand would exceed any plausible amount of emissions that are legislated for” and made it clear that some in the debate had “not taken account of climate change.”

Davies’s focus will be on where a new runway should be.  He explicitly rejected the view that it should be taken for granted that an expandingLondon’s hub airport was necessarily the best economic solution for the capital.  He made clear that, in his view,London was more like New York(which has two smaller hub airports) rather than some of the European cities which rely on one big hub. Gatwick Airport will be pleased he acknowledged the strength of their argument that more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other city in the world.  Gatwick argue that this means that second runway at their airport could bring passengers into London as effectively as a third runway at Heathrow.

Davies wasn’t drawn on whether he favoured Heathrow, Gatwick or an Estuary Airport.  What he did make clear, though, that “there was no case for an infinitely expandable hub.”

The big message Davies would have got back from the Assembly was their big concerns about any expansion at Heathrow:  traffic congestion, air pollution and, above all, noise, noise, noise.  Assembly member Kit Malthouse suggested to Davies that planes should fly along the third runway flight path before any decision was taken to give people an idea what it would be like.  Davies doubted it was practicable but said it was an “intriguing” idea which he would “take away and look at”.  And we discovered that flight path would include Ravenscourt Park– home of one, Sir Howard Davies!

What Heathrow can do next following the PR coup of Question Time being held in Terminal 2…….


by John Stewart

Heathrow Airport must be delighted with last night’s Question Time.  Never mind the content.  Admire the view.  Set in a gleaming new Terminal 2.  We are the UK’s airport of the future.  The only possible location for a new runway.

It is all part of Heathrow’s new PR strategy.  The arguments haven’t changed since the Government dropped plans for a 3rd runway in 2010.  As Joey Barton said on Question Time last night: “we haven’t suddenly got silent planes.”  The economic and environmental arguments are much the same as four years ago.

What has changed is Heathrow’s PR.  Rocked by its failure to get a new runway last time round, the company regrouped, rethought its strategy and revitalised its PR.

  • It got a new name.  No longer the untrustworthy BAA who kept breaking its promises to residents….and sent all the luggage to Rome on the opening day of Terminal 5.
  • It has embraced of residents over the politically toxic issue of noise
  • It has engaged in early discussions with local authorities and MPs about the economic benefits of expansion
  • It has carefully commissioned polls to give the impression that there is more support for a third runway than previously thought
  • It set up of Back Heathrow to concentrate on the negative campaigning

No question Heathrow has upped its game since last time and setting the opponents of a 3rd runway a new challenge.

And then there are the adverts, the billboards and the TV programmes: Question Time last night and last year a week-long, gushing series from the BBC on the workings of the airport.

So it doesn’t lose momentum, here are some suggestions what Heathrow can do next:

  • John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s new CEO, guest edits the Today Programme
  • Heathrow sponsors the Manchestert rams for the duration of the Conservative Party Conference in return for free branding on the vehicles
  • · Heathrow pledges to pay for the restoration of the old pier in Brighton during Labour’s Conference – to be opened concurrently with a 3rd runway in 2026.
  • An offer that Terminal 6, if given the go-ahead, will host free of charge key cultural events such as the X Factor, with Piers Morgan, given his performance on Question Time last night, guaranteed a place on the judging panel

Just a few suggestions to help out!  And to emphasise that, for all the glitz and glamour of its PR, the basic arguments haven’t changed.  Arguments that were rejected last time round.  It is that rejection – and the desperation to succeed against the odds this time – that is driving Heathrow to be the accommodating host of Question Time.  It is a strategy conceived in defeat rather than one that is confident of victory. 

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 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:   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 3rd runway 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.

Putting the Polls into Perspective

6th May 2014

Blog by John Stewart

 Last week HeathrowAirportclaimed 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.

 In fact, as we blogged last week, a third of people stubbornly refuse to back expansion at Heathrow.  Although some of the other figures fluctuate, the common thread in the Populus polls is the 30% or so of people who oppose expansion.  Here are the last three polls:

March 2014: and

Nov 2013:

May 2013:

 Heathrow Airport must be concerned that after more than a year of concerted, expensive and high-profile campaigning support for a third runway is little different than it was at the height of the protest six or seven years ago.

And, indeed, the referenda and surveys that were carried out by Hillingdon, Richmond and Hounslow show even less support for expansion.  Around 72% of residents opposed a 3rd runway:

 There has been no UKIP-style surge in support for a 3rd runway.

 Heathrow have only one year in which to change this.  The airport will be acutely aware that they lost the battle for a 3rd runway last time around because the one the residents who opposed expansion in the 7 boroughs closest to the airport (over 525,000 people in total) were able to forge an effective alliance with residents further afield, environmentalists, politicians from across the political spectrum as well as some key business people and trade unions.

 Heathrow Airport will know that, unless they can shift opinion in the next year, the odds against a third runway being built will lengthen…….whatever recommendation the Airports Commission comes up with in summer 2015. 

Heathrow’s Populus Poll: not all what it seems

Heathrow Airport today released the results of a poll asking people if they were more or less likely to support candidates in the local elections who back Heathrow expansion. .  It found that only 42% of people expressed an opinion on the issue:  of those, 25% of people said they were more likely to vote for their local councillor if they support expansion and 17% more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes expansion.

On the wider issue of support for a 3rd runway, people in the boroughs around Heathrow remain split, with just under a half supporting it and just over a third opposed.

The fact that a third of people stubbornly refuse to back expansion will worry politicians.  It adds up to a lot of people: over half a million on total. (Each borough contains about 250,000 people.  The 7 boroughs Populus surveyed contain about 1,750,000 people in total.  A third of that is 525,000).

The results are similar to the previous polls carried out by Populus.  But remain out-of-kilter with other polls.  Last year referenda and polls carried out in three West London boroughs found that 72% of people were opposed to a third runway at Heathrow.  That is also the message MPs get on the door step.  Questions need to be asked about what information is given to people by Populus before they are asked their views.

A work of art: the art of distortion


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! 

Doing nothing about noise at Heathrow is not an option


by John Stewart

I’ve written about it before.  But last week brought it home to me once again.  Doing nothing about noise at Heathrow is not an option.

On Tuesday evening I chaired a meeting in Brockley, 20 miles from Heathrow in South East London.  As I stood outside the church hall before the meeting started, I could hear a plane one every two minutes or so, turning to join its final approach path to Heathrow.

I saw the same manoeuvre taking place on the screen last Friday when I visited the headquarters of NATS (National Air Traffic Control) in Swanwick and.  NATS are impressive.  They run an effective, efficient organisation that, it must be said, has improved significantly since they were privatized.  But the question I was left pondering was whether they are being asked to do the impossible at Heathrow.  They are required to mange safely and efficiently over 1300 planes landing and taking off each day but also are keen to assist residents under the flight paths.

 Which brings me back to Brockley.  As I sat with the air traffic controller watching his blank screen light up with planes approaching Heathrow, nowhere shone more brightly than the dazzling white line of aircraft on their final approach path, many having joined 20 miles from the airport.  More than one million people live within those 20 miles.  Around a third of those – the people living closer to the airport inWest London– get a half day’s break from the noise when the planes change runways at 3pm.  The rest, like Brockley, get no relief.

 And make no mistake the noise can be a real problem in those areas further from Heathrow.  A report published by the respected acoustics form Bureau Veritas in 2007 found that in many of these areas “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.” (summary).

 Doing nothing cannot be an option.  But my visit to  NATS showed me that doing something is difficult.  Quieter planes on their own won’t do it because the number of aircraft is the big problem.  Steeper descent approaches would help somewhat.  Predicable respite periods can be managed before 6am when there are fewer planes but NATS would struggle to introduce them during the day when they need to land as many as 45 planes an hour.

The most useful solution for “the squeezed middle” – those living some distance from the airport under the final approach path – would be for planes to join the approach path much closer to Heathrow.  The bright lights on the NATS’ screens – the planes – would be shared around more equitably.  The former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe, the man fronting the Heathrow Hub bid for a third runway, believes it can be done.  NATS are not ruling it out as more of the precision technology becomes available.

NATS are more hopeful of improving things more rapidly for residents under the take-off routes.  There is more scope for giving respite.  Aircraft also have an increasing ability to ascend ever more steeply.

I didn’t ask NATS about the impact of a third runway at Heathrow.  I didn’t really need to.  If 480,000 flights a year severely restrict NATS room for manoeuvre, 740,000 would light up the air traffic controller’s screen with a brightness yet unseen.  Wouldn’t they?  


Chancellor tinkered with APD but the underlying message: it is here to stay


by John Stewart

The Chancellor’s announcement on Air Passenger Duty (APD) in yesterday’s budget speech was significant.  Less so because of the changes he announced; more for his underlying assumption that APD is here to stay.  This is a considerable blow to the aviation industry which for some years now has been united in its opposition to the tax.  But it was never going to be abolished.

 Successive governments have recognized that aviation is under-taxed.  When Kenneth Clarke, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced APD 20 years ago in his budget of November 1993 he said: “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”.

 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.  Other European countries are bringing in APD-type taxes (through, so far, at a lower level than APD is charged).

 Yesterday’s Budget sorted out some anomalies in the system.  Currently passengers travelling to the Caribbean, Asia or Australia pay more tax than those going to America.  By April 2015 all long-haul passengers will pay the American rate – currently £67 (for a single journey) rising to £71 when the change comes in.  The change has probably come about more from political pressure than a desire to please aviation industry lobbyists.  The rate on short-haul flight – £13 for a single journey – will remain the same.  APD will be imposed on private jets.

The details of the changes can be found here:

 The changes outlined will cost the Treasury £985m over four years from 2015, according to Budget documents.  It does mean that aviation is even more under-taxed but the big message is:  APD is here to stay.