The proposed addition of a third runway to Heathrow airport became a contentious issue as soon as such plans were announced in the summer of 2013. With the £18.6bn expansion project still not having been given the green light two years later, it remains choked full of controversy.
Despite opposition from London Mayor Boris Johnson, the Davies Commission – the team lead by Sir Howard Davies who undertook a detailed analysis of the potential impact of the expansion of Heathrow – delivered their report on 1st July and recommended a 3,500m runway be built at a site around two miles north of the existing two runways.
Plans still need to be approved by parliament, but Chancellor George Osborne has already indicated that he wants to “get on with it as soon as possible”.
The question is, what impact will the addition of a new runway at Heathrow have on ‘quality of life’ for London’s residents?
The figures, when analysed, are quite frightening. Already Heathrow provides air travel for around 74,000,000 passengers a year, with just under 1,300 flights per day and almost half a million flights per year.
Once the third runway is complete, the number of flights is thought likely to increase to over 2,000 per day or over 750,000 per year. This is an increase of around 50% on today’s levels.
In addition, tens of thousands of homes in the Greater London area would find themselves underneath newly-created flight paths.
Heathrow has admitted that noise pollution is the main political barrier to the successful acceptance of the expansion plans. However, Colin Matthews – Heathrow’s CEO – hopes that quieter planes, steeper flight paths and a number of other mitigating factors will help to quell the very vocal opposition.
The airport claims that forthcoming improvements in technology over the next decade will actually reduce the number of people affected by noise pollution by between ten and twenty percent. There is also the claim that people currently affected by noise pollution from Heathrow’s existing two runways will be ‘unburdened’ by issues caused by early morning or late night flights, as the number of such flights will be distributed more evenly between the three runways.
It seems though that people are not easily convinced by such claims. The campaign group HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) was set up to give residents a voice for complaining about noise pollution emanating from Heathrow both now and in the future.
A leading HACAN spokesperson, John Stewart, said:
“They can’t get round the fact that a third runway would bring 250,000 extra planes a year to Heathrow. With that sort of increase, it’s going to be pretty hard to argue that overall noise levels won’t increase. We’re going to see London and the south-east under an even louder sky of sound.”
Boris Johnson has recently announced his dissatisfaction with expansion plans.
“There will be more pigs flying than aircraft if we are to believe the claim that three runways at Heathrow will make less noise than two,” he said.
Johnson is in favour of closing Heathrow altogether, and establishing a new hub for air travel in the East of London. Heathrow disputed Johnson’s proposals, saying they did not believe sufficient infrastructure was in place to complete such a project by 2029.
The environmental group Greenpeace naturally came out against any plans to extend Heathrow. A statement issued by the group stated that the airport’s expansion plans “simply extend the shadow hanging over west London to blight more villages and more lives with noise, pollution and the threat of demolition. It’s time they realised Londoners will make sure their zombie runway will never be built.”
Despite reassurances from Heathrow, there can be no doubt that the addition of a third runway to the UK’s largest airport will have a massive impact on noise pollutions levels for a huge number of London’s residents. Even in these early stages, residents have formed protest groups and taken action, such as on 3rd July when they blocked the tunnel to Heathrow.
The path to the airport’s proposed expansion is likely to be long, hard and a potential political red-hot potato.
It’s certainly something that London residents are more than likely to be making a lot of noise about.