Heathrow's third runway has been a political football for a number of successive governments. But after the Airports Commission's recommendations this summer, it is about to be kicked out of the long grass.
As a resident of Brentford the decision is close to my heart (as well as my lungs and ear drums). Amongst the arguments and counter-arguments, opinion polls and marketing campaigns it can be difficult to understand right from wrong. But fortunately, local groups such as Clean Air London, HACAN and the Hounslow Green Party present very strong arguments as to why there shouldn't be a third runway at Heathrow. Here are just a few of them.
1. Noise pollution: Anyone living near Heathrow will be accustomed to the disruption of overhead planes. You may have to talk a bit louder in Barnes, adjust your TV aerial in Brentford, glue down your fine china in Richmond or learn sign language in Hayes. For some, the noise is a contributor to stress and serious ill health. This study in the British Medical Journal suggests an increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke. Many of us think that the noise is a necessary sacrifice for living in a capital city. But European Commission statistics show that Heathrow is unique. According to their figures, in 2006 the airport accounted for a staggering 28% of the people affected by airport noise in Europe. It impacted 725,000 people compared to the 238,000 affected by the next closest (Frankfurt). An extra runway would mean 40% more flights and noise in new parts of Osterley, Brentford and Chiswick.
2. Air pollution: Air pollution contributes to 1000s of deaths in London each year and the levels are already unacceptable in West London. This video featuring UCL researchers and Hounslow Green Party, shows that air pollution in parts of Brentford and Chiswick is already 4 times over the EU legal limit. Extra planes and associated traffic will not help us redress this. That's not to mention the negative impact a new runway will have in combating climate change. As the Green Party's wall of sandbags last week at Richmond bridge said, "there is no planet B"
3. Lost communities: An extra runway will inevitably lead to the destruction of 100s of homes, and many more being purchased due to unbearable noise. Rent and house prices in West London are already unaffordable. Reducing the housing stock will not help, particularly when new housing is either too expensive or sold to foreign investors. It is unlikely that residents asked to leave their homes will be able to find equivalent and affordable housing nearby. Neighbourhoods will be dispersed and communities will be destroyed.
The third runway's considerable PR machine has generated a combination of promises and scaremongering. It will provide jobs, they promise. If we don't build a third runway, we will fall behind, they warn us. Their economic arguments are built on uncertain assumptions. And however sincere their language, their goals are driven by profit not altruism. But even if their economic arguments were robust, at what cost do we let economics rule our future? At the cost of our environment? At the cost of the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of residents? At the cost of the flourishing communities a new runway will disband and destroy? There are occasions when the costs are so significant that they must override the economic gains. I believe this is one of those occasions. We cannot let a third runway be built at Heathrow.