Page03 - Heathrow expansion


Will third runway flights be pie in the sky? No doubt the hundreds of residential and environmental associations on London’s fringe are already preparing battle stations for a contest with the Government over its decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow. However, are we now in fantasy land? Indeed, is the whole project nothing else but pie in the sky? 

lf planning procedures do not start until 2010 it may be several years onward before construction begins, delayed by land challenges and other legal interventions. Knowing as we do the tradition for schedules to fall behind deadlines, could we be looking at a completed runway by 2025, rather than an official figure of 2020? And this is only if obstruction is minimal. 

There is another hiccup. The optimism of the Prime Minister in assuming that his Government will still be in power. This may or may not be the case, but main opposition parties are resolutely opposed to the runway and many of the PM’s supporters are equally hostile. lf the present Government wins fewer seats, some of its own MPs may well bring more pressure to bear against the runway ever being built. 
Never has anything of this magnitude been so uncertain. Strong arguments on both environmental and economic grounds can be produced. One of the drawbacks is the crowded urban areas surrounding Heathrow which constrain development. 

Conceivably, further traffic to or from the airport, in the skies and on the ground, will have an impact on thousands of lives. Talk about the economy. but health also comes into the equation. The shock of Buncefield should itself be sufficient warning, in the view of the analysts. That disaster happened on a Sunday. Do we need to increase risks at Heathrow every day of the week? There will also be a sixth terminal remember. 

That authoritative newspaper, The Economist, reports that the expansion could mean an increase in flights over London from 480,000 a year to 700,000, the Government’s legal obligation to cut this country’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent before 2050 is hardly feasible in the context of the third runway and other projects. 

Lined up with the Government are BAA and BA (British Airways), two leading trades unions and various business interests and organisations. We do need more information as there is a more than likely possibility of many individual union members and businesses across the board opposed to the project. 

The arguments for the £9 billion extension are that many new customers will be attracted, new jobs will be available and Heathrow kept competitive with European airports. The promise is that service at Heathrow will be improved. 
No information is forthcoming about the cost of the railway to link the airport with London and the north, as well as a programme of work. In fact, details are remarkably sparse for effort of this magnitude. Information on alternative costs, the expansion of Gatwick and Stansted, at least in outline, should have been submitted. 

Environmentalists appear to be generally against the scheme. They believe the harm will outweigh any good economically. The fear is that the global race in over-populating the skies will irrevocably fracture the environment and totally wreck policies to reduce carbon emissions.