The real problems with a 3rd runway

Bringing Reality to the 3rd Runway Debate

This blog is not dedicated to Back Heathrow.  That would be a step (or a runway) too far! Even on Valentine’s Day!  But it has been prompted by a Back Heathrow ‏@BackHeathrow  tweet: 

Trouble is, protestors do or say anything to halt expansion anywhere so much harder for genuine concerns to be heard.

How true is that?  And, equally, how much do pressure groups like Back Heathrow use the same tactics.  Here’s my attempt at a neutral assessment.

725,000 people live under the Heathrow flight paths

5 STARS   The figure comes from the European Commission, based on their noise maps

Another 150,000 people would be under the flight path to a 3rd runway

4 STARS   The Department for Transport figure from its 2003 consultation; a fair indication, but maybe a little dated

A total of 875,000 people would be disturbed by noise from a 3 runway Heathrow

0 STARS   Not true.  Acousticians reckon about 10% of the population is particularly noise-sensitive.  A good number of people would be irritated and annoyed by the planes but the percentage seriously disturbed unlikely to exceed 5%.  Still, at Heathrow that’s a lot of people:  43,000.

People newly exposed to aircraft noise get most annoyed by it

4 STARS   All the anecdotal evidence suggests this is true.  But only 4 star since it is anecdotal.  Has clear implications for people living under any new flight path

People knew the airport was there & shouldn’t have moved under the flight path

2 STARS   Some truth in it but too simplistic.  Because people could never have expected the number of planes they now get, especially in those areas 15 or miles from the airport.  And because many people on low-incomes don’t have a realistic choice.  But two stars because it is true that in recent years a lot of people, with choices, have bought under the flight path  

If the noise worries you, you should move away

2 STARS   Again, too simplistic.  Many people don’t have the realistic choice for reasons of income, employment, family or disability.  Social housing tenants, in particular, have limited choices. But warrants two stars because a lot of people do have the choice but don’t take it.

“It is possible to deliver a third runway without increasing airport-related traffic on the road” Heathrow Airport

3 STARS   Heathrow bases its claim on Crossrail, an upgraded Piccadilly Line, fast direct rail services from Reading, Slough and Thames Valley, an interchange with High Speed 2, new rail connections to SW London via a version of Airtrack, and improved bus and coach services all being in place.  That requires a lot of faith in other people paying for and delivering a number of major projects but Heathrow may make it because it is unlikely any Government would give a go-ahead to a 3rd runway that would clog up West London. 

“We can add capacity at Heathrow without exceeding air pollution limits”   Heathrow Airport

3 STARS   Areas around Heathrow already exceed the EU legal limits for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  Will it really go down with another 260,000 aircraft using the airport each year?  Heathrow bases this claim on the fact that by 2025/2030 planes and cars will be a lot cleaner.  While this remains a faith-based policy, the technology is moving in Heathrow’s direction.

“There isn’t a choice between more flights or less noise.  Heathrow can deliver both”  Heathrow Airport

1 STAR   Heathrow is on much dodgier ground on noise.  Their cut-off point for noise annoyance – the 57 decibel contour – they are using is regarded, even by the Airports Commission, as outdated.  It only takes in areas from about Windsor to Barnes.  Silence from Heathrow about the impact on areas beyond that.  Experts say that planes are not getting quieter at anything like the same rate as they are getting cleaner.  And Heathrow refuses to take fully into account the impact of increase in the number of planes overhead: still the biggest complaints of residents.  Even with quieter planes, steeper descent approaches and respite periods for resident, the claim remains unconvincing.

Heathrow would need to shut if an Estuary Airport was built

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