The Expansion Plans For Heathrow Airport: Who Wins?

Why Is Expansion of Heathrow Airport Concerning?

If we keep expanding the urban footprint and compensate it with the green footprint, we are not likely to impress our planet Earth!

Heathrow Airport will have the third runway functional by 2026. While the fourth and final phase is set to be completed by 2050. The Government’s decision to approve the construction of a third runway is being challenged by councils and campaigners. The supporting coalition has claimed the Government’s National Policy Statement (NPS) support for the project falls short of dealing with climate change, air quality, noise and congestion. 

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan stated that the Heathrow third-runway project will leave thousands of people facing intolerable noise levels and deteriorating air quality in an area where pollution is already exceeding the rightful levels. 

He continued saying that the addition of a third runway will make it virtually impossible to achieve the targets set for climate change in the UK. The project shows “a shocking willingness” to pass a tomorrow to the future generations with an infrastructure that is detrimental to the environment. 

The Urban Overhaul  

The plans for the Heathrow expansion reveal a massive infrastructure overhaul. The M25, UK’s busiest expressway will be redirected up to 150 metres west and let through a tunnel beneath the third runway. For the construction vehicles to operate, a temporary bridge will take position across the expressway. 

Furthermore, waterways throughout the Colne Valley, including the River Colne will be rerouted. In addition, a new immigration removal centre will replace the centres at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. Approximately 800 homes will be demolished and a primary school and special needs centre will be relocated to a different place. Besides, a huge car park will be constructed to accommodate 50,000 cars. 

As said by Robert Barnstone, of Stop Heathrow Expansion, the project will “disrupt people’s lives for up to 30 years while building this new runway but now proposes jumbo-size car parks while pledging to reduce the number of people using cars at the airport.”

Campaigners have brought out clear warning of the impact for the years to come when over 700 additional planes will be in the sky by 2026 after the new runway is open. 

Commitment In The Clouds

While on the other side, Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow’s executive director for expansion says that the project should “not come at any cost” and hence they have plans for low-emission zones and congestion charges to address local air pollution. The residents staying in the vicinity will be provided with property compensation and noise insulation funding. Besides, flights scheduled overnight will be banned for 6.5 hours.

Going in the line, Gilthorpe revealed their working with partners at the airport, local communities and in government to make sure how the project can move ahead in a sustainable and responsible way. The executive director for the expansion has invited people to in the consultation in order to put forth their point of views. 

According to Heathrow, the number of flights can be doubled with no increase in road traffic, emissions, noise, and air pollution and apparently, transport minister Chris Grayling believed it, as revealed by John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK. 

Furthermore, Caroline Russel, a London assembly member for the Green party regarded the project as “climate-wrecking”. She said that the net-zero carbon by 2050 target of the federal government of the UK seems to be less significant in front of the expansion. She questions,  How can we ever meet our Paris commitment if the government puts the interests of big business ahead of the health and wellbeing of Londoners?”

As per Heathrow, the expansion will cost £14bn. However, others say that the real figure will be close to £30bn and subsequently this will come to airlines and passengers paying for it. 

The UK has already provided a green signal for the expansion. Now, Heathrow will submit final plans for inspection at a planning inquiry in 2020, but the transport secretary is expected to approve it in 2021. 

The Voice Of The Residents Of Hounslow 

The residents of Hounslow, a borough in West London that lies under the Heathrow flight path have different viewpoints for a third runway. 

One of the locals said that the area already has a lot of air and noise pollution and it has become unpleasant to live here. 

Others think that the government is more worried about increasing revenue than the feelings of the local residents while some others revealed they are facing mental health issues like insomnia due to planes passing every now and then between 4 am and midnight. 

On the contrary, there are people who are optimistic about the development as they believe it is good for the country, as they will be able to make more money through new jobs and increased number of flights. 

A Compensation For The Expansion 

How Heathrow Expansion Is Compensating For Its Expansion?

With so much criticism and controversy enwrapping the Heathrow third-runway project, the planners have come up with a project called “green loop” that is going to be a compensation apparently for the 2,200 acres of open land (including over 1000 acres) that will be engulfed by the third runway. 

The proposal for “green loop” that will cover nearly 20 miles is a part of the biggest public consultation for the project that was introduced recently.

The “green loop” will be created in a way that supports walking and cycling to and from the airport. Plus, it will also enable pedestrians to cross roads safely.   

As per Gilthorpe, this project is just one among other ways they are planning to enhance sustainable and safe transport system in and around the vicinity of the airport. 

As hundreds of acres of land will be used up by the project, critics are more likely that “green loop” cannot compensate for such a huge loss of open land – so close to London.  

Moreover, Heathrow claims that it will launch Ulez-style Charge at the airport to prevent polluting cars from entering the terminals. But, these plans received a pessimistic response from airline group IAG which owns British Airways – Heathrow’s biggest customer.  A spokesperson said that Heathrow is one of the most expensive airports in the world and does not know how to manage costs. The company will not pay for it if the charges are not kept flat for the customers.

The biggest intention behind expanding Heathrow airport is accelerating the economic growth of the UK. As per government estimates, the construction of a third runway will enable Heathrow to enhance connectivity and bring £5.5bn of economic benefits between 2020 and 2080. 

There have been many instances where urbanism has defended its role by compensating the loss elsewhere. Such counteractions do not compensate for the interference happening with the immediate environment and the people’s health and in the long-term, it is not likely that the negative impact will be neutralised by 100%. 

Finally, it again comes down to urban planners to think over the initiatives being rolled out in smart cities and other parts of the world. How can we stop interfering with nature’s course and achieve climate change target on-time? It is now or never!