Heathrow and the Third Runway

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

May I take the Secretary of State back to the aviation White Paper in 2003, and two specific points? The first concerned the need to improve surface access to Heathrow and the second was a solemn commitment that: “The Government’s under-pinning objectives are to…reduce noise impacts over time, to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met”.

Does the Secretary of State not realise that five years down the track we do not have a single fast-track public transport link to Heathrow airport from the west, and so any increase in capacity will increase carbon emissions and gridlock? We are already asking for a derogation from the European air quality standards, so we do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting the solemn objective set out in the White Paper in 2003.

Martin Salter: I may be the only hon. Member here born within a stone’s
throw of the perimeter fence of Heathrow airport. My hon. Friend the
Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is right, in that an
airport drives economic activity and the prosperity of an area. However,
living directly under a flight path is a negative factor and is included
in all estate agents’ particulars.


8:07 pm

Photo of Martin SalterMartin Salter (Reading West, Labour) Link to this | Hansard source | Video match this

It is a genuine privilege to follow the passionate contribution of Mr. Gummer, although he made many of the points that I had intended to make about the credibility, or potential lack of credibility, of the United Kingdom’s position at Copenhagen. I strongly endorse what he said about political leadership, and—I say this in as comradely a spirit as possible—I regret the tone of the Secretary of State’s opening speech.

This has been an emotional debate, and I think it right and proper for Members to stand up for their constituents’ interests in the House, because we are first and foremost constituency Members of Parliament. I pay tribute to the strong contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen) and, in particular, from Mr. Randall. Their constituencies stand to be devastated by the consequences of proceeding with the third Heathrow runway.

I, too, have an emotional attachment to Heathrow. As I said in an intervention earlier, I was born in Bedfont, and many members of my family worked at Heathrow airport. For a number of years I was a cargo handler and union steward at Heathrow, and I know the area well. I know how important the airport is to the local economy; I know how an airport can drive a local economy, and how vital it can be to jobs. I know how much support Labour Members have from many of our colleagues who represent constituents containing regional airports that would have the potential to expand if Heathrow were not seen as the be-all and end-all of British aviation policy.

I also speak as a signatory to early-day motion 2344, and, until I am told otherwise, as vice-chair of the of the Labour party group on the environment.

Let me deal with the point about political leadership. I think I know where the majority of members of my party stand on this issue. I think I know how proud we all are—with the exception of a few right-wing nutcases on the Opposition Benches—of the letters that we are receiving from members of the public, from members of the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth, congratulating us on voting through the world’s first climate change Bill. We take the advantages, and we take the praise and the plaudits, but we must not abuse that by negating much of the good work that we have done in this Chamber over previous months.

The arguments in favour of a third runway are fundamentally flawed on three counts: the environment, surface access, and the organisation of Heathrow itself. There were clear commitments in the aviation White Paper on surface access and the environmental consequences. I want to read into the record the following passage:

“To tackle local impacts around airports, the White Paper prescribes a range of measures to be applied nationally and locally. These include new legislation and economic instruments as well as improved technology and stringent planning conditions attached to airport development. The Government’s under-pinning objectives are to limit and, where possible, reduce noise impacts over time, to ensure air quality and other environmental standards are met, and to minimise other local environmental impacts.”

On surface access, the White Paper stated:

“Increasing the proportion of passengers who get to airports by public transport can help reduce road congestion and air pollution. We expect airport operators to share this objective, and to demonstrate how they will achieve it in putting forward their proposals for developing new capacity.”

Let us consider surface access. I represent a constituency that is some 25 miles from Heathrow airport. I was a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the late 1990s, and Committee members regularly caught the 9.05 flight to Belfast. To arrive at Heathrow on time, I would leave my house for what was a 25-minute journey at just before six o’clock in the morning, because that was the only way to beat the gridlock on the M4. Why did I not take public transport? There is a public transport link, I suppose, if I want to travel 60 miles by journeying 40 miles into London and then 20 miles back out again.

The former Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Harris, talked about Crossrail and the opportunities it provides, but the big flaw with Crossrail is that there is no western rail access into Heathrow. I work closely with Mrs. May and with the Thames Valley Economic Partnership. It represents the six major corporates in the Thames valley, which is the hub of the dynamic sub-regional economy; 23,500 jobs depend on those six corporates alone, and last year they spent upwards of £12 million on taxi fares running clients backwards and forwards from Heathrow because there is no sensible public transport surface access from the Thames valley. That is complete nonsense.

The White Paper gave the commitment that surface access must improve as a precondition of expanding the airport, but years later there is precious little evidence that we will see anything tangible. Before anyone cites Airtrack in reply, let me say that Airtrack is a slow route, and that it will not deliver what business needs by providing fast, efficient transport into London Heathrow from the west.

John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington, Labour)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the consultation document gives the figure for additional surface traffic movements as 25 million a year, and that we now believe that that is a severe underestimate of the actual number of additional movements that will be required if there is a third runway?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I was not aware of the precise figures, but it would be fair to say that millions and millions of pounds are lost to business and the UK economy every day of the year because of gridlock in and around London Heathrow airport. One can only imagine how much worse the situation will get if we increase capacity by up to 50 per cent.

The Secretary of State said the reason we are not hitting European air quality targets now is because of traffic and exhaust emissions. That will not wash. If we know that there will be a massive increase in exhaust emissions because of increasing capacity at Heathrow, how much further away will we be from delivering on our 2003 promise to comply with internationally agreed air quality targets? That is why the Government are already looking at a derogation from the 2015 directive.

There are wider issues as well. There was talk of noise. I do not want to get into detailed discussion of the topic, but I remember as a youngster seeing people run screaming into their house when prop-engine planes such as Comets and Viscounts came so low over the roofs that eventually people could not take it any more—they had had enough. Living under a flight path is stressful. I am sure that is why I have a loud voice. Irrespective of property prices, we must think about quality of life.

My hon. Friend Alan Keen talked about the contribution airport workers have made to the success of Heathrow airport, and that is true, but this is not about just getting a night’s sleep. There are probably more workers working shift patterns around Heathrow airport than anywhere else. Any increase in numbers of flights and noise at any time of the day will disadvantage communities and family life and ruin the quality of life for many people.

I have looked at the figures for flights in and out of London Heathrow. The last set I saw showed that about 475,000 flights use Heathrow each year, but some 100,000 are to destinations to which there are alternative means of travel, and about 100,000 are some of the short-haul hops that I suggest are not vital to sustain Heathrow airport as the nub of the sub-regional economy. Therefore, the argument that we need a better, rather than a bigger, Heathrow gains credence from these figures.

Published in: on November 13, 2008 at 7:43 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] The first concerned the need to improve surface access to Heathrow and the second was a solemn commitment that: “The Government’s under-pinning objectives are to…reduce noise impacts over time, to ensure air quality and other … More […]

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