London’s battle against Heathrow expansion
Heathrow – Londoners don’t want expansion or to be overflown by thousands more noisy and polluting planes, but the Government keeps pushing for it.
Despite a variety of attitudes to climate change across the political parties, the London Assembly is completely opposed to Heathrow expansion on the grounds of noise nuisance from planes, air pollution and congestion caused by people traveling by car to the airport to work or to fly.
So, as Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, I was able to write to all London MPs ahead of the Heathrow third runway vote, making it clear that the Assembly vehemently opposes the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
Frustratingly Sadiq Khan opposes Heathrow but is still keen to see expansion at Gatwick, citing economic growth in his support for more flying. Although I persuaded him last year to meet with Plan B and to use climate change as one of the arguments in his legal case with various London boroughs against the Government’s third runway.
Impending aviation expansion
Heathrow has recently announced plans for 25,000 extra flights a year, bringing new areas of London under its flight paths. Meanwhile, London City Airport, in the middle of its own significant expansion into leisure flights, saw record passenger numbers in 2018.
These new concentrated flight paths are euphemistically described as “airspace modernisation” by the airports. In fact, it is aviation expansion by the back door. They are guiding planes by sat nav rather than radar which lets them cram more planes into narrower corridors. Fewer Londoners may be overflown, but those who are have intense sleep and health wrecking plane noise minute by minute through the day from 6.00am until 11.30pm at night.
However much double glazing is showered on residents by the airports in mitigation, the fact remains that on a summer night you still need to open your windows and its grim sitting in the park if you can’t hear yourself think.
Working together to oppose expansion
These proposals for new flight paths are also opposed by the Assembly. I was proud to use this to negotiate a line in our recent committee report on aircraft noise saying:
Air traffic using Heathrow and City airports should not increase, and the proposed third runway at Heathrow should not go ahead.’
A majority of the political parties represented on the Environment Committee – Greens, Labour and Conservatives – have signed up to a position of no aviation expansion in London. The challenge will be to get sign up to no expansion anywhere else!
We may be of different political stripes, but a collaborative, evidence-backed way of working makes our voices stronger on issues we can agree on, Londoners don’t want expansion and we will represent their voices.
The failure of London’s MPs
This contrasts with many London MPs (Conservative and Labour) who did vote for Heathrow’s third runway. Twenty-seven London MPs, who should know better and do better for their constituents, backed the Government in August last year when expansion was voted on in the Commons. Labour did not whip and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, after making a huge fanfare about his opposition, performed an astonishing vote-dodging disappearing act.
Quite apart from increases in carbon emissions from more flying, there’s a massive impact on the health and well-being of their constituents, many of whom work at Heathrow, from the noise, pollution and worsened surface access congestion.
The Government, and London MPs particularly, have a duty to protect and improve the health of the people they serve and should resist the corporate calls for more flying anywhere.
The next step will be to get cross party support for demand management measures (less flying) and a wider understanding that economic growth that busts carbon reduction targets is not going to help us tackle the biggest challenge we face: climate change.