Good afternoon passengers. This is your captain speaking. On behalf of cabin crew we ask that you please direct your attention to this blogpost as we review the economic costs and interview former MP Zac Goldsmith

This week work on the Heathrow runway expansion stopped after UK government agreed on a court decision to block the construction on environmental grounds. An interview I was lucky enough to have with an avid supporter of this decision. Here's a post from my blog...

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Disco lights throw projections around the room, it’s a quiet evening outside the London Transport Museum but inside anything but quiet. A multitude of beer bottles pop one after the other, as many people gather together with great gusto in celebration of approved plans to build a third runway at London Heathrow Airport.

Attendees present at this event were warned to put away all social media for fear of sparking environmental protests. After that, it was impossible to ignore that this was a controversial matter, even over the party atmosphere.

Its’s hard to form an opinion in support of the policies that Heathrow has put forward in order to reduce its carbon footprint with the extension, especially when it cannot be ignored that the economic benefits for the 3rd runway outweighs the environmental costs. As a British citizen it feels wrong to ignore the 180,000 jobs promised by Heathrow, but moreover as a global citizen – it feels equally callous to ignore the environmental and social costs.

One of the biggest causes of air pollution in London – aviation and congestion. With the Heathrow expansion plans underway I turned to Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith* who voted against Heathrow expansion. Zac is known to openly oppose the expansion in Parliament. (Perhaps Government might refer to this as the ‘Heath-Row Expansion’ (if you will excuse the pun!)

Zac very kindly agreed to a telephone interview with me.

The costs of Heathrow expansion are immense.” Says Zac over the phone to me. “Putting aside the upsides for the moment, looking at the costs I don’t think you can find any independent expert who believes that you can reconcile Heathrow expansion with air pollution laws.

According to the BBC, 6% of UK CO2 emissions are aviation based. Heathrow wants to implement policies such as the 6 ½ hour ban on night scheduled flights, but Zac tells me the problem lies on the motorways. The ‘Heathrow 2.0’ plan is self-proclaimed out to set a ‘direction towards a future of sustainable aviation.’ One of the strategies put forward is to make 50% of airport passenger journeys made by public and sustainable transport by 2030, supporting no more airport-related cars on the road, so local areas can thrive without increased congestion. This seems like a mandatory response especially since Zac told me that,

“Most of the pollution from the airport comes from people going backwards and forwards. If you’ve got another runway you will have around 23m extra road passenger journeys to and from Heathrow every year . In West London the roads are already in gridlock – that level of additional travel will make it very hard to manage. The idea that you can have no net increase in traffic or air pollution is just laughable. I don’t think any independent observer or expert would support that – its only really Heathrow and the government who make that claim.”

Now that the decision has been made and policies have been legislated – as a country involved in the Paris 2016 agreement a question the government might want to ask themselves is whether we’ll meet the EU safety limit for Nitrogen Dioxide in 2030?

“The government has been adamant that we will meet those limits if it goes ahead and that we’ll stay within them.” Zac informed me. It’s very hard to imagine us staying within those limits if the Heathrow expansion goes ahead – so the question is: what do we do about it?”

Of course, for environmentalists that is the key question. According to the UK government over 9,000 Londoners are dying early every year as a result of toxic air. Evidently air quality is an issue that the government needs to take a hands-on attitude with and democratic system must be in place so that Heathrow must keep their promises. Without me having to ask, Zac effectually proposed a solution,

“What I believe that the government should do if they are so confident, is that we should write that in legislation. We should have clauses in legislation that state that if Heathrow expansion goes ahead, and if Heathrow goes beyond legal air pollution limits then runway use needs to be suspended until the problem has been solved.”

With the Heathrow expansion vote swinging an overwhelming majority of 296 (415 votes to 119) in the Commons, surely there must be some explanation for why London would socio-economically profit from this expansion, when scientific and medical evidence has suggested that this is not a well formulated decision. Putting aside the matter of air quality I asked Zac about the economic turnover. Would this expansion change levels of connectivity, causing further globalisation or even improve lives in the city of London?

“Gatwick provides the same economic upside at the same level of connectivity, so we have to ask ourselves why on earth would Government opt for Heathrow? It does not make sense. What has happened here is not that the economic cost has trumped the environmental case, but that a decision has been born of bad politics. There’s no other way I can put it.”

“The government has now admitted, if you look at their analysis, that Heathrow expansion will not provide any more connectivity than Gatwick expansion. In terms of net economic value to the economy when Heathrow started out years ago it was talking about hundreds of billions of pounds; that figure has now been revised down to such an extent that it has put the economic value at the same level as Gatwick airport.”

“If you were to make the decision of whether to green-light Heathrow and you knew that all those costs existed, you would only do so if you really believed that the economic upside was huge – and the economic upside is not.”

Many thanks to MP Zac Goldsmith, and Charlotte Cox of the Conservative Party for making time for this interview – for proving unique insight into the argument against Heathrow Expansion. 

*Please note that this blogpost is from 2018 archives of my blog The Urban Game, and may be slightly outdated as result

Photo courtesy of Skitterphoto

Navya Lobo

Research Scholar in Geography at Laidlaw Foundation, Naturvation

Londoner studying Geography, interested in Community Gardens and their wider impact in society. Interested in Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Cities. Passionate about product design, gender equality and co-founder of the Amazon Rainforest Initiative.

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