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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