activism climate change politics transport

Promises, lies, and runways

As expected the government will give its consent for a third runway at Heathrow today. To avoid the disastrous PR they are describing it as ‘green Heathrow’, by packaging the runway with a bundle of other transport initiatives. The centrepiece of it is lifted straight from the Conservatives – the high-speed rail link to Birmingham that the opposition suggested as an alternative.

To win over the environmental lobby, the government will promise that only airlines that meet emissions targets will be able to use the runway, and noise pollutions rules will be strictly kept.

The trouble is that these promises have no credibility whatsoever. Why? Because the runway itself is a broken promise (pdf). Planning permission for Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 was only secured by assuring local residents, MPs, and environmental campaign groups that a third runway would not be needed.

  • “We must stress that this company is not planning or proposing to build a third runway at Heathrow.”
    BAA, 1994
  • “Terminal 5 does not require a third runway.”
    BAA, 1995

Obviously things change, and travel in 2008 is very different to what it was in 1994. Perhaps this could be excused. But since residents feared that T5 would eventually need a new runway, BAA reassured local residents thus:

  • “We do not want, nor shall we seek, an additional runway… subject to permission being given for T5, an additional Heathrow runway should be ruled out forever.”
    Sir John Egan, BAA Chief Executive, 1999
  • A third runway would have “unacceptable environmental consequences”.
    T5 public inquiry inspector Roy Vandermeer’s report, 2001

On the evidence above, no promises made by BAA or the government make should be taken remotely seriously. The only option now is to fight the runway in the courts, in the planning process, and on the ground.

Update: Here’s the letter I sent to Gordon Brown today:

I was sorry to hear of your government’s decision today to allow planning for a third runway at Heathrow to proceed.

I live within a mile of Luton Airport, and I know what it is like to live with aircraft noise, and yet Luton is tame compared the the continuous, relentless roar of Heathrow. That the suffering of West Londoners should be ignored in this way is not acceptable, and neither is the health risk posed by the air pollution that expansion will undoubtedly bring.

I realise that there are certain provisions on emissions in today’s announcement, and a cap on the number of flights. However, I would remind you that during the planning process for Terminal 5 local residents were repeatedly reassured that there were no plans for a third runway. Years before, similar promises were made regarding Terminal 4. With that kind of legacy, any promised limitations on the airport ring very hollow indeed, especially since they are not legally binding.

Although I have been happy with my local Labour MP, I will not vote for a party that approves of airport expansion. Further, I believe the third runway to be so detrimental to the national interest that I have joined thousands of others in registering myself as a beneficial owner on land in Sipson on the runway site.


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