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Oppose the Tories’ poisonous plan for Heathrow expansion

This article is over 5 years, 10 months old
As the government has given the go ahead for a third runway at Heathrow airport, Sarah Bates examines the dangerous environmental and social cost
Issue 2608
The expansion of Heathrow will mean 26,000 more flights a year
The expansion of Heathrow will mean 26,000 more flights a year (Pic: Michael Garnett/Flickr)

Residents of west London are facing a “tsunami of noise” following cabinet approval from the Tories to expand Heathrow Airport.

The plan will rip apart communities, and leave a legacy of pollution and the prospect of living in a construction zone for those left behind.

It will mean more of the emissions that drive climate change globally.

It’s a huge project, costing at least £14 billion and almost 20 years in the making. Heathrow—already the world’s busiest airport—will see 26,000 more flights a year.

Heathrow bosses say we need more capacity because of the rise in flight numbers.

But it’s not working people going on holiday or visiting relatives that are behind the pressure on flights.

Three quarters of international passengers at Britain’s biggest ­airports travel for leisure, and they are disproportionately rich.

At Heathrow their average income is over £57,000. Just 15 percent of people in Britain take 70 percent of flights.

The damage caused by the airport means that for as long as there have been whisperings of Heathrow expansion, there has been a campaign to stop it.


Resident groups and climate activists have fought expansion for almost two decades.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has long opposed the plans—Heathrow sits inside his Hayes and Harlington constituency.

Four councils under Heathrow’s flight path have spent £350,000 in an attempt to stop the third runway.

And it’s likely local authorities will team up with campaign group Greenpeace to fight it through the courts.

Three villages currently sit on the proposed site for the new runway. So does the M25. The plan is to tear down 900 homes and build a tunnel for the motorway under the runway.

Alongside concerns about the environmental impact, there are fears ordinary people could end up paying the bills.

It’s a huge undertaking for private finance, and the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion show the perils of private companies running big infrastructure projects.

The biggest trade unions back the third runway as they want the thousands of jobs it would create.

But opposition to Heathrow expansion is a working class issue. Ordinary people wil be hit by the demolitions and by climate change and environmental damage.

Unions should fight for the creation of jobs in the public sector and in green energy and transport rather than boosting industries that fill our skies with pollution and tear people out of their homes.

With construction unlikely to start for another three years, there is still time to stop the plans and fight for an alternative.

More trains less planes

One alternative to more runways for domestic flights is a better rail network.

But the proposed high-speed HS2 is likely to be so expensive it will be priced out of most people’s reach.

And the travel chaos on much of Britain’s railways shows what a sham privatisation is.

Rail fat cats are unable to even operate timetable changes, much less build a quality rail system.

In May transport secretary Chris Grayling bailed out the failing Virgin East Coast rail franchise.

The route is now under public ownership.

But instead of letting private companies cash out when they fail to turn a profit, all elements of the transport system should be brought into public ownership.

This would mean airports would be organised in a way that benefited the majority of people.

Under the current system, airlines will charter flights they know won’t be popular.

They just want to stake their claim in the market.

This means planes taxi off the runway half empty—but polluting the skies all the same.

Runway ‘not a done deal’

John Stewart is chair of campaign group Hacan which has been fighting Heathrow expansion for 18 years. He told Socialist Worker the development plan is the result of “a company that is too big to fail”.

He said, “It’s entirely owned by banks and hedge funds who are fundamentally pursuing this deal for their own profits.

“They’ve got powers that most private companies don’t have, like the ability to buy people’s homes without the consent of the owner.”

Campaigners are uncertain about whether the Tories will be able to pull off a project on the scale of the runway.  “This government, and transport secretary Chris Grayling in particular, are so incompetent there are real questions about whether they can deliver it”, John explains.

And campaigners remained determined to stop the runway. “It’s not yet a done deal”, said John.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see people on the streets, either in a conventional demonstration or in direct action.

“Expansion is bad news for residents, and bad news for the enviroment and we’ll continue our campaign.”

Already illegal nitrogen levels

Air around Heathrow is already so polluted it’s above the legal limit for nitrogen pollution and an extra 700 planes a day will make this worse.

It’s not just planes that cause pollution but road traffic as well—passenger vehicles and lorries carrying air freight also contribute.

Air pollution contributes to a host of medical conditions including lung cancer, heart disease and damage to the brain, kidneys and liver.

Emissions going sky high

The Climate Change Act requires carbon emissions to be cut by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

But industry bodies predict the third runway will make carbon emission 15 percent higher than the target.

Airport bosses insist that development in aviation technologies will make airports more environmentally sustainable.

They say lighter and more energy efficient planes would mean a cut in carbon emissions.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

Tory hypocrisy won’t help

Some high-profile Tory MPs whose constituencies are under the Heathrow flight path oppose the project.

Boris Johnson promised to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” to stop construction of the runway.

And Zac Goldsmith quit as a Tory MP over the airport expansion, forcing a by-election and losing.

But he stood again as in the general election in 2017. Don’t rely on them to stop it.


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