New Labour’s plans for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow airport in west London are another example of how the government puts business before people and planet.
Expansion at Heathrow would be a disaster for residents. An entire village, Sipson, would be demolished to make way for the new runway and up to 10,000 people could be forced out of their homes.
Already some schools under the existing flight paths have a plane go over every 90 seconds.
The enormous increase in flights after expansion would increase noise and pollution and would make life intolerable for people living under the flight paths. Congestion, health and education would all be affected.
But increasing numbers of flights aren’t just bad news for people in west London. Aviation already accounts for 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Britain, and it’s the fastest growing contributor to climate change.
Mile for mile, emissions from an aeroplane are no higher than those from an average car, but mileage from aviation is much higher – even Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t usually drive for thousands of miles a day.
And greenhouse gases emitted at high altitudes have a much worse effect than those emitted on the ground.
The plans for Heathrow expansion are facing massive resistance from local residents and environmental campaigners.
A recently commissioned report by the campaigning group HACAN Clear Skies concludes that there is very little benefit to the general economy from airport expansion. So it’s worth asking why the government is so determined to go ahead.
The 2003 White Paper, The Future of Air Transport, tries to emphasise the benefits of airport expansion to ordinary people, arguing that 600,000 jobs in Britain rely on the aviation industry.
But this is a non-argument – there are lots of alternative areas the government could invest in which would create jobs, such as building council housing or expanding the health service.
It is also hypocritical – when it comes to other groups of workers, the government doesn’t show the same concern for defending their jobs.
The beneficiaries of the expansion of Heathrow would not be workers but the City.
The government wants to expand Heathrow to confirm London’s status as a “world city”, and specifically defend its ability to compete with other financial centres in Europe.
When he approved Terminal 5 in 2001, Stephen Byers, then transport secretary, told the Commons he was convinced that “the real beneficiaries of turning down Terminal 5 would have been Charles de Gaulle [Paris], Schipol in Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports”.
Inter-city competition also lies behind the expansion plans now. The London Chamber of Commerce said recently that, “A third runway is vital to guarantee the capital’s competitive position as a leading business centre.”
The Open Skies agreement, which came into force on 30 March, put Heathrow at risk of more competition from other airports by deregulating trans-Atlantic flights.
Previously, only a limited number of companies were allowed to fly trans-Atlantic, and about 40 percent of all trans-Atlantic flights went via Heathrow.
Now that any carrier can fly from any European city to the US and Canada, the government’s fear is that unless capacity at Heathrow is expanded, the extra trans-Atlantic flights which are expected could go to Paris or Frankfurt instead.
This could threaten Heathrow’s status as the main gateway from Europe to the US – and London’s position as a financial centre.
The expansion of Heathrow is for the benefit of the City of London. The plans put the lives of the thousands affected by the noise and pollution of the airport and the millions affected by climate change below financial interests.
The fight against Heathrow expansion is not only about aviation. It’s a fight for planet before profit.
Elaine Graham-Leigh is a member of the Campaign against Climate Change in London.
Demonstrate against Heathrow expansion – assemble 12 noon, Hatton Cross station, west London, 31 May.
To get involved in the campaign, or for more information go to » www.campaigncc.org