Socialist Worker

Promises to limit Heathrow expansion broken and broken again

Issue No. 2103

Graph of Growing passenger numbers predicted by 2030

Graph of Growing passenger numbers predicted by 2030


Each expansion of the airport has come with a promise of no more. Each time it has been a lie.

In 1979, the Terminal 4 planning inspector reported that the noise climate around Heathrow was “unacceptable in a civilised society”.

He recommended that Terminal 4 should be built but on the understanding that it would be the last major expansion at Heathrow.

Lord Trefargne, the then aviation minister, told the House of Lords on 14 February 1980, “The government conclude that the idea of a fifth terminal at Heathrow and a second runway at Gatwick should not be pursued. This effectively limits expansion at these airports.”

The government authorised Terminal 4 in 1980 and agreed that there would be no further expansion, but agreed to a cap of 275,000 flights a year. By the time it opened in 1986 there were over 300,000 flights.

Stephen Byers, the transport secretary in 2001, told parliament, “We are making it a planning condition that there will be a limit of 480,000 flight movements a year”. So Terminal 5 was given the go ahead but with a cap on flight numbers

Alistair Darling, the then transport secretary, told parliament in July 2002, “The decision on Terminal 5 holds good, and was made in the light of existing pressures on Heathrow and its two runways.

“So the position on Terminal 5, and on the cap on the number of flights that was referred to at that time, remains good in relation to Heathrow’s current situation.”

That was a New Labour way of announcing that the 480,000 cap only ever applied to the existing runways so opening the prospect of further development.

Labour launched a “full and open consultation” on whether the third runway can be built within “strict local environmental limits”, rather than on the third runway itself.

European Union air quality standards have been swept aside with claims that road traffic emissions will fall and give enough slack to allow more pollution from Heathrow.

The government, in league with the BAA operators of Heathrow, have gone as far as to claim that the third runway could reduce carbon dioxide emissions because aircraft would no longer have to waste fuel queuing to take off or land.

This is despite government figures that say that the 200,000 extra flights that the new runway will carry will raise carbon dioxide emissions by 2.6 million tonnes a year.

And this growth will not stop. By the year 2030 the government estimates that over 500 million passengers will be flying out of British airports.


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