Fri 23 Nov 2007 – Although widely publicised well in advance, yesterday’s UK Government announcement of proposals that would enable London’s Heathrow Airport to handle a substantial increase in the number of flights has been roundly condemned by environmentalists and local campaigners. The proposal to have a mixed-mode use of the existing two runways, which will allow an extra 60,000 aircraft movements a year, and the building of a new runway capable of adding a further 230,000 flight a year, is now to undergo a three-month consultation process.
There are many groups lined up against any further expansion of the airport. Opposition will be fierce and not just confined to the kind of largely unorganised protesters that set up camp just outside Heathrow earlier this summer.
Local councils, representing some two million residents affected by aircraft taking off or landing at the airport, have joined forces to form the 2M Group. “Government claims that a third runway can be built without extending noise nuisance throughout south and west London are simply not credible,” says the group.
It accuses the government of “keeping secret” the results of models carried out by civil servants working with BAA – the airport’s operator - showing how both air pollution and noise levels can be contained. It also accuses Ruth Kelly, the government minister responsible, of ignoring the findings of her own department’s recently-published ANASE study that showed residents had become increasingly annoyed by a growth in flight movements around Heathrow (read story).
“The Government is asking us to trust that by the time the [third] runway is built there will be an entirely new fleet of quieter aircraft flying,” said Wandsworth Council leader Edward Lister. “They are so hell-bent on expansion that they are not stopping to count the environmental costs. They will not even take into account their own noise study which they had promised would be used to underpin government policy.
“The more flights there are, the more people get annoyed. People living under the flightpath will be outraged by this lack of basic regard for their quality of life.
“We are used to broken promises on Heathrow. We were told in 2003 that Terminal 5 would be operated without adding extra flights as aircraft were going to get bigger. We were also assured that a fifth terminal would avoid the need for a third runway.
“Heathrow may be good business for BAA but that’s small comfort to the two million people living around the airport who will pay the environmental price.”
The 2M Group has mooted the possibility of making a legal challenge if the proposals get the green light on the grounds that it contends the government has already made up its mind and has therefore prejudged the outcome of the consultation process.
Friends of the Earth’s aviation campaigner, Richard Dyer, called on the Government to abandon its aviation expansion plans if it is serious about tackling climate change. “Aviation is already the fastest growing source of UK carbon dioxide emissions. Building a third runway at Heathrow will inevitably lead to even more flights and more pollution,” he said. “Unless we curb the growth in flights, our targets for combating global warming are unlikely to be met.”
In addition to local MPs opposed to the plans, there are a number of local anti-expansion groups who will be out in force over the next three months, including HACAN ClearSkies, Plane Stupid, Stop Heathrow Expansion and NoTRAG (No Third Runway Action Group).
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