The essence of successful campaigning is to shape the future. There will be a number of opportunities for aviation campaigners to do that in 2018. It will be the year when crucial decisions will be made and pivotal policy positions set in train.
The most headline-making decision will be on a third runway at Heathrow. Already it is the Government’s preferred option. If Parliament backs it in a vote expected by the summer, it will become official Government policy. The next step will be for Heathrow to begin the 2 – 3 year process of drawing up and consulting on the detailed plans before presenting them to a local planning inquiry for approval.
HACAN has long campaigned against a third runway and will continue to do so. Our principle objection is this: we feel that an extra 700 planes a day will only worsen the noise climate (despite any welcome improvements in aircraft technology and better operational procedures that may be on the way). It will be particularly hard on areas – such as parts of Hammersmith, Chiswick, Brentford and Ealing – which have never had planes before. Lives will be turned upside down and, for some people, it will never go back to the pre-plane days. Already, according to the European Commission, 28% of people impacted by aircraft noise across Europe live under the Heathrow flight paths. We feel that, whatever economic benefits a third runway may bring, the noise disbenefits are simply too great.
While the long-awaited decision on the third runway will capture the headlines, it important that, as campaigners, we don’t let it overshadow our chance to shape other key decisions that will be made in 2018.
On January 17th, Heathrow will launch two public consultations to run in parallel over a 10 week period. One will concern the very local impacts of a third runway; the other will be about the reorganisation of its flight paths.
While HACAN continues to oppose a third runway, if it does happen, we want the best possible deal for our members who will the people who will be living with the impact of the new runway. We are determined to try to shape that deal. We would of course prefer not to be in a position of trying to shape a deal before a final decision has been taken but that it the reality of where things are and it would be a dereliction of our duty to our members if we didn’t use every opportunity to get the best deal possible.
So, during the consultation, we will be putting forward and campaigning for tough conditions to be embedded in any recommendation the Government may put before Parliament for a third runway.
The six key HACAN conditions would want to see:
- A tougher night flight regime than the 6½ hour night currently on offer
- Guaranteed respite for all communities within 25 miles of Heathrow
- A noise envelope that sets firm limits on noise and flight numbers
- World class compensation
- A Community Engagement Board
- A fourth runway to be ruled out
The conditions should be become part of primary legislation agreed by Parliament in order to provide the firmest guarantee possible that there will be no going back on them.
We will also seek to shape Heathrow’s flight paths consultation. HACAN’s well-known position is that PBN could work for communities if the precision technology is used to introduce a number of routes which are then rotated to provide predicable periods of respite. It could be a positive benefit for communities from Lewisham to Reading who at present are being tormented by all-day flying. Whatever system is finally introduced, it needs to be rooted in the principles of fairness and equity.
The other piece of emerging legislation which will be developed in 2018 will be the new Aviation White Paper being put together by the Department for Transport. It is likely to enshrine in legislation some of the positives which were outlined in the Government’s Airspace Policy, published towards the end of 2017: more realistic metrics for measuring noise annoyance; the recognition of the importance of respite; the establishment of an Independent Noise Authority (expected to happen this April). These are measures HACAN campaigned hard for over many years. We will be joining other organisations like the Airports Community Forum to press for tough measures to cut noise and for airport communities to have a stronger voice in decision-making to be included in the White Paper.
But the consultation last year on the vision behind the White Paper was based on a huge predicted growth in passenger numbers over the coming decades. As indicated above, aviation growth can bring benefits. But future growth, unless regulated in some way, could overwhelm us. When the 90% or so of the world’s population who have never flown start to do so, some controls will probably become inevitable. A fair fiscal system would be the most effective form of control. It needs to be a graduated system where those who fly most frequently – and those who travel the greatest distance – pay the most. Air Passenger Duty, which raises £3.2 billion a year for the Exchequer, includes a distance element. The much-discussed Frequent Flyers Levy – http://afreeride.org/ – bases the tax paid on the number of trips made in a year.
Finally – and as important as anything else for people living with the noise right now – in 2018 we will press for immediate improvements to the current noise climate around Heathrow. Early in the New Year we will publish a report which will suggest that, while most flight paths have not changed in recent years, there has been more concentration of aircraft both of landing and take-off. This needn’t wait until new flight paths are in place to get sorted. We will suggest it is something with air traffic control could deal with in the short-term.
We will continue to defend the runway alternation enjoyed by many people in West London. And back the trials of slightly steeper approaches being carried out by Heathrow. And back the research being carried out into the impact of steeper departures. We will continue to play an active role in bodies such as Heathrow’s Community Noise Forum and the Community Engagement Board (which will incorporate the Heathrow Consultative Committee).