Case against Heathrow expansion

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					       The Case Against Heathrow Expansion

1. Introduction                                                                          West London

The government proposes to expand Heathrow by means of a third runway, together with a 6th
terminal and associated roads. The government estimates that this could increase the capacity from
480,000 flights pa to about 720,000.

In the interim period, before the new runway could be brought into operation, the government
proposes to introduce „Mixed Mode‟. This is a method of operation whereby planes can land on
both runways at the same time or take off on both at the same time. This contrasts with the present
situation whereby, for half a day, planes takes off from one runway and land on the other. At 3pm,
the landing and takeoff runways are changed over, this being „runway alternation‟. Mixed mode
could increase capacity from 480,000 to 540,000, although mixed mode with no increase in total
flights could have operational benefits as it could help to relieve congestion.

This briefing summarises the case against Heathrow expansion. While many of the points are valid
for both a 3rd runway and mixed mode, some are only relevant or more relevant to one. This is
usually obvious from the context.

2. Air pollution

Some areas in and around Heathrow already breach UK and EU air pollution standards, set to
protect human health. Specifically, the annual average „limit value‟ for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) is

Despite what it says, the government cannot, with any confidence, meet the EU and UK limits if
Heathrow is expanded with a third runway. The government colluded with BAA to rig the air
pollution estimates, as was shown by information obtained by Justin Greening MP and BBC
Panorama, among others. The head of the Environment Agency has no confidence the limits can be

The government is going to apply for a „derogation‟ for NO2. This is a process whereby the EU
allows member states to continue to exceed EU limits in particular places beyond 2010.

In addition to EU „limit values‟, which are legally binding, there are a number of other EU and UK
standards and guidelines for pollution. These have all been ignored by the government. Only the
EU limit value is liable to result in legal action if breached.

It is estimated by the GLA that 1000 Londoners a year die from air pollution.

3. Noise

Government has consistently misled over the numbers of people affected by noise. It uses the 57dB
(decibel) contour as a measure of the number of people (or area) significantly affected by noise,
despite most research which shows that people are affected down to about 50dB. In 2007 the
government‟s own ANASE study confirmed those results.
The measure used by the government, Leq (Loudness equivalent), is unsuitable for expressing noise
impacts at Heathrow because it fails to properly reflect the impact of increased numbers of flights or
the way they are distributed through the day. For example, it suggests that there is no increase in
noise nuisance if the number of flights is doubled but the noise of individual planes reduces by an
amount that is barely noticeable.

Despite all the evidence, the government continued to mislead the public in the Heathrow
consultation by using a 57dB Leg noise contour in order to demonstrate the noise impacts. Its
claimed „strict environmental condition‟ – that the 57dB area should not be greater than 127 square
km - does not reflect the reality of noise impacts. It appears to have simply been invented by the
government because it expects the limit could be comfortably met with mixed mode, Runway 3, or

4. Climate change

Aviation is the UK‟s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to climate
change. According to the government, it already represents about 6% of carbon dioxide (CO2)
emissions and about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

If aviation grows unchecked, in accordance with present government policy, aviation will represent
about 55% of UK‟s CO2 emissions by 2050 and up to 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions,
assuming that the CO2 target in the Climate Bill for 2050 is met.1 If aviation grows unchecked, the
other sectors of the economy would have to reduce their CO2 emissions by about 90% and their
total greenhouse gas emissions by about 95% to make up for aviation‟s increase. There is no
evidence that this could be done. The upshot is that it will be impossible to meet the UK‟s target if
aviation is allowed to grow unchecked.

Aircraft from Heathrow account for about half the UK‟s aviation emissions and a third runway
would increase emissions by about 6 million tonnes of CO2 pa by 2030. If Heathrow expands
unconstrained to meet demand up to 2050, it alone could be producing about 27% of the UK‟s
allowable CO2 emissions and up to 40% of its allowable greenhouse gas emissions, ie far more than
the whole of London would be allowed. Thus Heathrow expansion by itself would severely
jeopardise the UK‟s climate targets.

The government and the industry claim that aviations emissions will be addressed by aviation being
included in European „Emissions Trading System‟ (ETS) from 2011. However there is no evidence
that ETS will resolve the problem posed by aviation‟s increased emissions.2

  The government has produced figures of 21% for CO2 and 29% for greenhouse gases, but that is because they assume
that predict and provide will suddenly be abandoned at 2030, they assume the target reductions don‟t apply to
(international) aviation itself and they assume 60% cuts instead of the 80% now incorporated in the climate bill. (Note -
a revised estimate has recently been made by the government using a target of 80% cuts by 2050, but it still seriously
under-estimates the impact because the other flaws in its method remain.)
  ETS is a system whereby airlines are given a number of permits to produce CO2 and, if they need more, they have to
buy them in the market. However, there can be no confidence ETS will have a significant effect. The existing ETS,
which excludes aviation, has been totally ineffective in controlling emissions from the other sectors to date and
furthermore there is no assurance that aviation will even be incorporated (the US is opposing it). Even if the system
does come into operation, it is hard to see where the extra permits for aviation will come from. The other sectors of the
UK economy have an immensely challenging target of 80% cuts, so it is very unlikely they will have permits to spare.
Foreign countries also need to make deep cuts, so they are unlikely to have the slack to sell permits to airlines.
5. Loss of homes

A third runway would lead to the loss of hundreds of homes, including the entire community of
Sipson and it would destroy the social structure of several other communities. It is hard to see how
this is consistent with the government‟s „stronger communities‟ or quality of life agenda. There are
no plans for re-housing the displaced people.

6. Surface access

A third runway would lead to some 18 million more passengers travelling to or from the airport by
car.3 In addition there are many extra employee car trips. The extra car trips and hundreds of
millions of extra car km will increase congestion, air pollution, noise, danger and greenhouse gas
emissions and will lead to more pressure for road-building and widening.

7. Open space, wildlife and habitats

A third runway and associated terminals, roads, etc would lead to the loss of 230 hectares of Green
Belt land, with associated rights of way and areas of public open space. It would disturb birdlife on
the nearby South West London Water Bodies Special Protection Area and „Ramsar‟ site, and would
increase air pollution at Wimbledon Common, Burnham Beeches, Windsor Forest and Great Park
Special Areas of Conservation. These are internationally important sites.4

8. Danger

Heathrow is already by far the most dangerous in airport in the country in terms of risk to people on
the ground (ie „third parties‟). This is due to the large number of heavy planes flying over a large
population. Additional flights arising from a third runway would increase risk by around 50%,
setting aside any extra risk due to over-crowding of the skies and consequent increased chances of a
mid-air collision.

9. Landscape and heritage

A third runway would have major landscape and visual impacts. It would destroy or severely affect
ten historic buildings (e.g. Manor Farm Great Tithe Barn at Harmondsworth) and an Archaeological
Priority Area.

10. Equalities

Although the government was forced to carry out an „equalities assessment‟, following legal action
by FOE, the assessment was very misleading because the options consulted on were different from

  Figure derived from BAA „Surface Access Report‟ table 27 comparing 2010 „maximum use‟, with 2020 „R3/T6‟.
Passenger trips by car are taken as taxi + park-and-fly + 2 x kiss-and-fly. The number of car trips will be somewhat les
because there may be more than one passenger in a car. There are no figures given for total car km.
  Under the Habitats Directive, these internationally important sites require „appropriate assessment‟ studies to be
carried out for any plan or project that could affect their “integrity”;
the White Paper and because large numbers of people in deprived groups were left out of the
analysis. The fact that virtually all the economic benefits (calculated by the government and others)
go the better off was not mentioned.

11. Economic case

The economic case for Heathrow is deeply flawed because the government has systematically over-
estimated the benefits while ignoring many of the costs.

Wider, national economic benefits are claimed for Heathrow without, in most cases, any
quantification. Where figures are given, these come from studies sponsored by the aviation
industry, not by independent researchers.

The majority of traffic at Heathrow is leisure. Business only accounts for about 40% of its traffic,
yet it is nearly always business that is cited when claiming economic benefits. This is not
surprising, since tourism takes twice as much money out of the UK as it brings in and leisure trips
are entirely discretionary, easily substituted by other consumer spending. The government studies
showed that nearly all the traffic that would be suppressed if Heathrow were not expanded would be

The government carried out some economic analysis of its own, using the economic concept of
„consumer surplus‟. But the government assumed a benefit stream of 60 years, far longer than
would be used in any normal, prudent investment analysis. It assumed the price of oil would
remain low for decades, ie no recognition of „peak oil‟. It also included economic benefits to
foreigners, against its own guidance.

The analysis also failed to take account of most of the costs of pollution and other „external costs‟.
An allowance was made for the costs of climate change, but these were, arguably, 4 times lower
than those indicated by the Stern report. The economic costs of noise and air pollution were
virtually ignored and no allowance was made for the cost of land and buildings sterilised by
planning blight and by the Public Safety (danger) Zone.

The economic analysis also fails to address equity and taxation issues, such as the £9 billion pa tax
exemptions given to the aviation industry and its customers due to lack of tax on fuel and VAT.

If these factors are allowed for, the economic benefits become negative by a large margin.

12. Further expansion

Using the government‟s current forecasts, Runway 3 would be full well before 2030. The
government would then want, presuming continuation of its present „predict and provide‟ policy, a
4th runway and 7th terminal.

Accepting the government‟s demand forecast of 135 million passengers at 2030 and making the
standard assumption that a runway can take about 40 million passengers, a new runway would be
„needed‟ in about 2024. Allowing 10 years for construction and bringing it into operation and 2
years preceding that for planning and preparation, a decision would be needed by 2012. That is just
3 years from now!

By 2050, based on its own forecasts, the government might well argue that a fifth runway and 8th
terminal should be in place.

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