Heathrow expansion: Londoners will get all the bad with none of the good

Half the extra passengers causing new noise will be people who never leave the Heathrow shopping mall

Watch Darren Johnson question Howard Davies on the meagre benefits of the new runway

People who believe that the Davies Commission supports a solid economic and environmental case for expansion of Heathrow simply haven’t read beyond the press release and examined the small print.

The air pollution and noise impacts make it is easy to see why Londoners oppose airport expansion, but a third runway at Heathrow will also lead to a decline in airports around the UK and fewer short haul connecting flights. The economic benefits to the UK economy in 2030 are slim and they are mostly concentrated in the bank accounts of Heathrow shareholders.

Those northern English and Scottish MPs advocating Heathrow expansion should pay more attention to the Gatwick analysis of the Davies Commission figures.

Around three out of 10 new Heathrow flights will be people using Heathrow instead of flying out from other airports in the south east (mainly Gatwick), one in 10 will be at the expense of other British airports, and almost half of the extra flights will be international transfers.

Only one out of 10 of the predicted flights will be new direct connections for British passengers – mostly people who live in west London and the Thames Valley. Why would an MP from Glasgow or Manchester support that?

As you can see in the clip above, today I put this question to the Davies Commission:

“Gatwick has examined the forecasts for Heathrow in the year 2030 with a third runway. In that year the Commission forecasts show 31 million additional passengers at Heathrow compared to the ‘do minimum’ case. Of that number, 14.7 million are additional international – international transfer passengers.”

“Of the remaining 16.3 million Origin and Destination (O&D) passengers, 9.8 million have swapped from other London airports and 3.7 million from regional airports. Thus at a UK level, expanding Heathrow is forecast to deliver only an incremental 2.8 million O&D passengers.”

–and was unchallenged.

Let me spell out what these figures mean.

Transport for London thinks that an extra quarter of a million people will be affected by noise. But half the extra passengers causing that noise will be people who never leave the Heathrow shopping mall as they transfer between international flights. Londoners get the downside and the owners of Heathrow pocket the money.

The same goes for air pollution. With 10 million passengers flying from Heathrow rather than rival airports in the south east, the third runway would concentrate all the air pollution in an area which is already over the European legal limits for pollution.

A third runway would probably make it impossible to meet our legal obligations to reduce pollution which is poisoning Londoners.

The Davies Commission suggests this can all be dealt with, but makes some heroic assumptions. First, there would need to be a new congestion charge and an Ultra Low Emission Zone banning dirtier vehicles around the airport. Second, there would need to be a massive shift to public transport.

Davies estimates the cost to the tax payer of the extra rail and road schemes to be around £5bn, but this assumes that a lot of other unfunded projects will have been built by then.

Davies believes that the government will have paid for and built Crossrail 2, the Jubilee Line extension and the Western Rail access by that point. I love the optimism, but it took decades of dithering before funding was secured for Crossrail 1. According to Davies, all this will have happened by 2030 and then the government will spend another £5bn.

It’s clear that the Davies Commission massages the facts to fit the conclusion, rather than the other way around – boosting the benefits to Heathrow airport, while downplaying the downsides that Londoners have to deal with.

Its analysis of air pollution looks at passenger numbers in 2030, before the expanded airport reaches full capacity. But the economic case assumes it has added another 23 million passengers a year, and is at full capacity.

Earlier this year, the government was required by the Supreme Court to produce a new air pollution reduction plan by the end of December to bring emissions down to the level of the legal limits.

It would be extraordinary if the government agreed an emission reduction plan and then drove a jumbo jet through the middle of it by signing off on plans for the most polluting development in the country. It would be likely to land them back in court, for little benefit to London or the rest of the UK.

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly. Follow him on Twitter

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4 Responses to “Heathrow expansion: Londoners will get all the bad with none of the good”

  1. Hoootie1

    100% of those who come through LHR will be served by Londoners – people who live and work in London, at the airport, at service providers, at the airlines. Additionally, thousands will be employed for the construction. Billions will be spent to stimulate the local economy. More flights means more choices – more choices means better prices – better prices are good for ALL Britons.

    These complaints sound hollow – classic case of NIMBY paranoia.

  2. Paul

    Heathrow is asking for one new runway, but how long will it be before they need the 4th or 5th. It appears that London is taking a bandage approach to the problem. There really needs to be a master plan. If Heathrow is the airport for London then buy up all the buildings from the rail line north of the M4 south to London road and east to Brentford. Rezone the areas not used for runway to industrial/green space(golf courses) and do this right. Or build a proper new airport that has been designed for expansion. There has to be a master plan or this debate will happen again and again. By this time Heathrow should be asking for its fourth runway, not its third. Have a grand plan. I like the Mayors idea of a airport/rail/ferry Hub.

  3. Selohesra

    Gatwick is hardly impartial in this matter – I would not place too much reliance on their analysis

  4. Cyprus

    I just love the way people pray on the pollution issue ! Heathrow has only a small percentage to do with the pollution problems in London, its all down to the transport issues that Boris has not addressed. thousands of diesel cars, lorries and buses clogging up the roads, Chauffeur taxis in S class Mercs, Nearly 10.000 people die, Last year, mayor Boris Johnson came in for criticism after a King’s researcher published figures showing Oxford Street had the worst NO2 levels in the world, Build the airport and stop moaning…

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