This morning Heathrow Airport announced a number of suggested concessions that they believe should enable them to build a third runway. Some of these, such as a reduction in night flights, would be welcome, but the list was striking for its significant flaws.
Heathrow has promised that it would not seek to build a fourth runway should it be allowed to build a third. However this is a highly dubious promise for two reasons:
First, Heathrow has a long history of promising that its next expansion will be its last expansion. Over the years Londoners have been told that the fourth terminal would be the last time Heathrow expanded. We were told the same thing when Heathrow gained permission to build a fifth terminal. There is no reason to believe that a third runway would mean the end of the line for Heathrow expansion.
Secondly, is what a third runway at Heathrow would mean for London's hub capacity. Allowing a third runway would effectively be a statement saying that Heathrow is now and ever will be London's and the UK's hub airport. Hub airports, as we have seen around the world, need to have at least four runways and preferably room to expand further. At the moment there is the opportunity to recognise that Heathrow was built in the wrong place and that we should build a new airport, ideally in the Thames Estuary. If a third runway is approved then the Government will be almost closing the door on the most sensible alternative to an ever-expanding Heathrow.
Nevertheless the dubious promise of an end to expansion if the third runway could just be granted was not the most extraordinary suggestion this morning. The idea that extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone - which is currently due to be introduced with the same boundaries as the Congestion Charge Zone in 2020 - to the M25 would enable the expansion of Heathrow is truly ridiculous. What they are effectively saying is that every single car, van or black cab driver in London would need to buy a new low-emission vehicle in order to make the Heathrow expansion conceivable.
Heathrow is facing air quality issues that simply cannot be overcome. If the best they can offer is a ham-fisted proposal that would severely impact small businesses and drivers across London then today should be the day that the idea of a Heathrow expansion is knocked on the head for good.