Susan Kramer writes… “the fight on Heathrow expansion is far from over”

The gleaming palace of Terminal 5 at Heathrow will open on March 27th. The British Aviation Authority and British Airways will celebrate. But for others, the day will be a reminder of the misery the Government and BAA plan for the residents of London who live under the Heathrow flightpath – an area that, if plans go forward, will cover much of London.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with travellers through Heathrow having a terminal that is fit for purpose. Goodness knows air travel is hideous enough for most of us without making departure and arrival an act of suffering. So let us hope that T5 finally reduces that all too familiar stress. Perhaps British Airways will even lose its distinction as leading loser of passenger luggage. We can at least be sure the shopping will be amazing.

What I object to is that Terminal 5 was never meant to be the beginning of a new era of expansion. It was meant to be the end. Sir John Egan, CEO of the British Airports Authority in 1999 said, “Our position could not be clearer, T5 will not lead to a third runway”.

Taking BAA at its word, the planning inspector approved T5 with a cap on flights of 480,000 pa. But barely was the ink on the approval dry before proposals came forward for a 3rd runway and terminal 6, wiping out the village of Sipson. Then came plans for a change to flight operations which would remove the half day of noise respite which presently makes life under the flightpath just about bearable.

It continually amazes me that Brown’s Government, which claims to be ‘green’, can totally undermine its position on Climate Change by planning to double the number of flights at Heathrow to nearly 800,000 pa.

I am less surprised when the Tory front bench sits on the fence, mentioning environmental tests but then waxing lyrical on the economic benefits of expanding Heathrow. As you can gather, local Tory Councils and MPs are allowed to oppose Heathrow expansion while the party remains very careful not to risk its business appeal. Liberal Democrats in Parliament are the only party to hold the line against expansion.

But the business argument is nonsense. Never-ending Heathrow expansion is not a concrete requirement for London’s future – just as never-ending motorway expansion is not good for Britain. In fact, those of us who know London are well aware that ruining the quality of life here with aviation and noise pollution will do nothing but drive businesses out.

And now reports in the Sunday Times suggest that the Government’s very flawed and cynical consultation on Heathrow expansion used data heavily influenced by BAA to get the right outcome. The consultation is near incomprehensible anyway – dubbed “atrocious” by the Plain English campaign. The whole thing should be ditched.

Many will of course want to look over Terminal 5 when it opens, but we must not allow the glory of soaring glass to overshadow the reality that community, people and quality of life matter more. Let me assure you that the fight on Heathrow expansion is far from over. Plenty of activity is planned. Check out www.hacan.org.uk and my own website.

* Susan Kramer is Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park.

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18 Comments

  • Successive governments have lied through their teeth about Heathrow expansion, and local councils have colluded in this.

    Consider the cordon of low-grade Green Belt land that surrounds the airport. It is under-utilised and has nil amenity value. Hillingdon, Hounslow and Spelthorne Councils could have tried to remove it from the Green Belt, thus forcing the government to declare its hand at a public inquiry. Why have they never done this?

    Of course that land has been kept in the Green Belt because the government has intended to build a third runway all along – when big business and the Americans tell them to do it. Which is now.

    The poor people of Stansted have lived with the threat of expansion for more than 40 years now, having fought and won three successive public inquiries.

    Remember Cublington? The Heath government set up a “commission” of so-called “experts” who (after wasting a great deal of public money) recommended the Ceausescuisation of several Buckinghamshire villages (including Stewkley, with its magnificent Norman church). But so explosive was the outcry that Roskill was dumped within weeks, and the five volumes of his “report” put through the shredder.

    Oh, and then there was Maplin. Shove it on an Essex salt marsh, where no-one can see or hear it. Except for the geese who would make bee-lines for the aircraft engines.

    That was dumped, too.

    I say put the hordes who want to sun themselves in Benidorms on high-speed trains and reserve air travel for those who really need to use it.

  • Let’s just see how much domestic travellers & holidaymakers like being fingerprinted FOUR times & photographed twice to get to their planet-killing flights.

    I predict lots of problems. Good.

  • I also have no sympathy with those who bought a house under the flight path and then complain about noise. But a third runway will – as I understand it – bring a bunch of people who currently are not under the flight path, under it. That is a different issue, and one that it is reasonable to campaign on.

    I have always wondered whether it is possible to expand Heathow runways west, making each of the current runways longer. Then each could used for take-offs and landings, rather than, as at present, only for one or the other.

  • Tim, I think that may be possible in theory. But you would also have to move the M25 west. That would be extremely disruptive to one of the busiest stretches of motorway in Europe.

    I have to say that I have never been very conscious of aircraft noise in places like Bourne End, Crookham, Marlow and Henley, that I visit quite often. I know Slough and Windsor less well.

    Also to be considered are the poor people who live beneath the points where the aircraft gain height. One of these is Underriver, just outside Sevenoaks (immortalised by Samuel Palmer). Stand underneath, and a defeaning racket defiles the sylvan peace!

  • Do we really have a freedom to fly? If we do shouldn’t we be listening to the lobby group Freedom to Fly, who’ve recieved attention from Labour and funding from Future Heathrow?

  • We need to be realistic about the attractions of “London-East Mids” as a solution. A disproportionate amount of air travel is made by business people living in Bucks-Surrey. We can all get from our houses and our offices to Heathrow in about 40 minutes. Even with a Maglev from (say) St Pancras that would not be possible, since it takes more than 40 minutes from my house to St Pancras! The same is true if you start in Woking, Marlow, Oxford, etc: it is very hard to make East Mids accessible to all of us in the way that Heathrow is. This is the big objections to Maplin Sands/East Mids, etc etc.

    People, esp. business people, are prepared to pay a big premium to fly from Heathrow because it is more convenient than any other airport, even Gatwick (hence Continental et al shifting US bound flights to Heathrow as soon as they were legally able to).

    We can say that we don’t care about these people’s convenience, but that would be a risk. Maybe they will fly less. Maybe their companies will relocate to a more business friendly destination. Remember that about a third of income tax revenues come from the handful of >£100k earners. These are not jobs we want to see disappear, or things like pensions, the NHS, education etc become much harder to fund

  • PathfinderSquadron 2nd Sep '10 - 10:11am

    BOURNE END has never been such a “Plane Spotters” dream venue. NOISY doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s like being screamed at. Permanently.
    Have lived in the same house for 25 years, with light “air-traffic”, but the current flight path is a whole new gruesome experience. Every incoming plane now travels right over my roof from Bourne End to COOKHAM in 5 seconds. This New Order fly-past ‘now’ starts at 05.20am. The pilot ‘Rookies’ are distinguishable by their flying as indecently low as possible or imaginable. Ignorant doesn’t begin to describe them.
    Today’s 05.20 “air-show” came over, as per usual, from East to West, flying “astonishingly” LOW and LOUD. Last time I heard noise like that was from a Lancaster.
    BAA like to say the reason for changed flight paths is all about air safety – landing approaches changed due to being affected by wind direction. Contrary to what the LHR fibs and fobs us off with about wind being the cause for a changed approach path, this morning’s sky is typically summery and clear… proof that “wind-speed / wind direction” is NOT now nor ever has been the basis for this [new] flight-path streaming / runway-approach.
    This flight path’s been in place for MONTHS now … so it’s ALL about the MATHS** .
    The sheer numbers of planes induce a loss of will for mere mortals do the Maths on a daily basis. That, and a permanent loss of sleep.
    All part of an intentional psychological “grooming” by BAA. Insidiously orchestrating a creeping into the collective consciousness like the progression of Ravel’s Bolero & The Planets’ Mars. Creep in softly and the public won’t notice. When they begin to hear how loud the ending is becoming, it’s too late to leave the auditorium let alone change the record
    Today, from 06.02 to 07.04 [ 62 minutes ] = 26 incoming. That’s 1 roaring over the roof every 2.4 minutes**.
    From ground level the “loudest” planes measure 1/2 inch long, from nose to tail. So far today TWO VIRGIN ‘incoming’ flights have – worryingly measured 3/4″ long – from ground level. (Fly Virgin, where we’ll let you smell the roses, count the roof slates… and make our approaches lower than everyone else to save us fuel and boost our Profit Margins**).
    Despite being roared awake at 05.20 DAILY, [ therefore having endless “extra” daylight hours in which to calculate the Maths] I’m always too tired to work out the FORMULA of just how MANY feet above ground level they’re roaring in at over my roof.
    It’s now 08.17. Incoming is every 2.4 minutes. About 73 planes in the last 3 hrs.
    If I personally made that amount of noise, that frequently, starting that early, continuing without pause for 3 hours – not only would the neighbours complain, but the Local Council would serve me with an ASBO… and there’d be NOTHING I could do about it.
    It’s 09:20 hours and still no let up. Wind direction? What wind?
    A giant corporation’s ill-wind … that’s being met with yet another haunting Parliamentary “Tumbleweed Moment”.
    Good luck England.
    Gonna need every bit of it.

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