A runway for the few, not the many: call on MPs to vote against Heathrow expansion

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Labour has said that Heathrow expansion does not meet their 'four tests' - but will allow MPs a free vote. SNP MPs could also tip the vote. The Committee on Climate Change have written a letter warning the government that aviation emissions must not be allowed to grow above the limit that was planned for, and expressing surprise that the transport minister's statement about Heathrow did not even mention climate change.

Please email your MP today (whatever party they belong to) about the importance of this vote.

For information, it may be easiest to copy and paste the text below, but do introduce it with a few words about why this is important to you. What may seem to be a lot of technical details underly a huge issue of social justice and betrayal of future generations.

And don't forget your postal address

Heathrow expansion fails the climate test

A new runway cannot be built and aviation emissions kept within the Committee on Climate Change's recommended cap on aviation emissions of 37.5Mt CO2. There is no way to get around this. Since none of the proposed solutions listed below are plausible, the only real alternatives on climate change are either:

1. To reduce flights from regional airports to allow expansion at Heathrow, further exacerbating regional disparities;

2. To openly backtrack on both the UK Climate Change Act and the Paris climate agreement, admitting that emissions cuts made by all other sectors of the economy will be partially cancelled out by growth in UK aviation emissions, leaving us unable to meet our commitments.

Carbon trading/offsetting is not a solution: It has a poor record for actually delivering promised emissions reductions elsewhere. And as the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, has pointed out, emissions cuts will increasingly be used to deliver countries' own demanding commitments under the Paris climate agreement - where will these additional cuts come from? The obvious answer is double-counting - 'fake' emissions reductions. 

On the same day the Heathrow runway was approved by Cabinet, six European countries threatened to walk away from the international carbon offsetting scheme for aircraft emissions - because it was being weakened to the point it was just a greenwashing exercise.

Biofuels are not the solution: The idea that sustainable biofuels would be available in sufficient quantity is very doubtful. For example, a report by Biofuelwatch argues that the only biofuel which currently appears feasible for use at scale is palm oil - and the expansion of palm oil cultivation would be far from good news for the climate.

Other technical fixes are not the solution: In the most recent figures produced by the Department for Transport, the expected future carbon emissions from aviation have been reduced, compared to those produced four years previously. There is no real explanation for this increased optimism - or what to do if it appears unfounded.

Fact. Aviation emissions can be around twice as damaging as CO2 from other sources: Aviation's climate change impact is around double what it would appear from measuring CO2 alone (from other gases emitted at altitude and the formation of contrails). To have any chance at all of offsetting its impact would therefore require doubling the CO2 removed from the atmosphere elsewhere. This is being quietly ignored by the international aviation industry and by the UK government.

Myth: the Airports Commission found that Heathrow expansion was compatible with our climate targets: In fact all the committee claimed was that this was theoretically possible - IF additional policies were implemented such as an extremely high carbon price (which the government has no intention of implementing). Thereby giving a fig leaf which has no basis in fact.

Heathrow expansion fails to help the UK as a whole

It will exacerbate the gap between the South East of England and less well-off regions. The Airports Commission's own modelling suggests that traffic at regional airports would fall on average if a new runway was built at Heathrow. While more slots will be available, it has been suggested that recouping the costs of building a third runway would mean that they will go to more profitable long-haul flights, and Scottish taxpayers or passengers may even need to pay a subsidy to retain connections.

Suppose Heathrow could be expanded with no extra car journeys... how much would the infrastructure for that cost? Even Heathrow accept it will cost £5bn, but TfL have estimated an extra £10-15bn on top of that for transport links. Ironically, as Heathrow plans were laid before Parliament, newspapers across the North of England united in anger over recent rail chaos - and more systematic neglect of public transport outside London and the South East. This is where public funding should go to help our economy.

What if something goes wrong financially? Heathrow Airport Ltd already has significant debt and is borrowing even more to build a third runway. It’s “overbid” with it’s third runway proposal. Someone has to pay for that. With the government stepping in to bail out nuclear power stations, would taxpayers have to do the same with a 'too big to fail' third runway?

The economic benefits as a whole are significantly overstated. A reassessment of the data found that according to the DfT’s own value for money criteria for transport infrastructure projects, Heathrow third runway would now be rated as either poor or low value. At best, in net present value terms, building the North West Runway at Heathrow will yield an economic benefit of £3.3 billion. At worst, in net terms there would not only be no economic benefit whatsoever, but a significant financial cost of up to £2.2 billion, to be borne either by the airport, its investors, airlines, passengers or perhaps even government.

MPs can't rely on the 'official' figures in support of Heathrow expansion being accurate. One example (that this reassessment did not consider, but which came up in the Transport Select Committee's recent report) - the carbon emissions from additional air travel from a third runway (costed at £18.5 billion) have been excluded from cost benefit analysis. The relatively small figure of £624 million relating to airport operations and passenger access was used instead - taking 96% of emissions off the balance sheet.

Airport capacity - is another runway really needed in the South East?

This has been the great unmentionable in the 'Heathrow/Gatwick' debate - the idea that additional runway capacity may not be needed in the south east of England.

AEF's report from 2016 points out that the London airports system is larger than that of any city in the world, with Luton and Stansted half empty. They state, 'If there was demand for ten times as many daily flights to China, airports in the South East could handle that tomorrow, without any additional runway capacity.' Numbers of business flights have in fact been falling.

The government is putting the cart before the horse in trying to force through Heathrow approval at least 18 months before publishing an aviation strategy. Is this because the strategy would show that Heathrow expansion is a costly white elephant, incompatible with many more important objectives such as tackling climate change?

Heathrow expansion fails the health test

Air pollution fail: the area around Heathrow expansion already breaches legal limits for air pollution. Heathrow claim there won’t be a single extra car journey having a 50 per cent bigger airport. No plausible explanations have been given for how this could be achieved, or how air pollution could be kept under control. Air pollution has serious health impacts, from the immediately obvious, such as eye irritation and asthma, to heart problems, lowered birth weight and stunting of children’s lung growth. 

Noise fail: According to government documents revealed only after a Freedom of Information request, the increased noise from the additional aircraft and traffic are expected to affect up to 2.2 million people. Airport noise is already a problem over larger areas than just West London - some areas are overflown by both Heathrow and London City planes. However MPs will not be given information about flight paths - these are being decided later in a completely different process. 

Aircraft noise is not 'just' irritation - it can impact mental health, and increase risk of increased blood pressure, and higher risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Health is also detrimentally affected through sleep disturbance. Aircraft noise impedes the memory and learning ability of school children.

References

Climate

Transport Select Committee Report https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmtrans/548/548.pdf (Annex I, p147)

Problems with offsetting and why an international agreement won't solve Heathrow's emissions problem: https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-05/WWF_Grounded_report_F...

https://www.transportenvironment.org/press/six-european-countries-threat...

http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Aviation-biofuels-repo...

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidence... (carbon trading, and non-CO2 impacts of aviation - p3)

https://www.campaigncc.org/aviation_elephant

Health

https://www.londonair.org.uk/LondonAir/guide/HealthEffects.aspx

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/09/heathrow-third-runwa...

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2016/01/aef-report-finds-uks-out-of-date-...

Economics

http://neweconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/NEF-Flying-Low.pdf

Capacity

https://www.aef.org.uk/uploads/Runway-Myth.pdf