Heathrow still have a mountain to climb

13/05/12

blog by John Stewart

Heathrow still have a mountain to climb.  Today’s launch of their revised plan for a third runway http://www.heathrowairport.com/static/HeathrowAboutUs/Downloads/PDF/taking_britain_further.pdf 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: http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/how.the.heathrow.campaign.was.won.pdf   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.

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