Friday, 21 March 2008

No to Heathrow Airport expansion

This is what I wrote for the consultation on the expansion of Heathrow Airport:

Dear Ms Kelly,

The proposed runway 3 and terminal 6 at Heathrow are wholly unnecessary and extremely damaging.

(1) Short-haul flights from London to "near Europe" can mostly now be conveniently replaced by rail journeys (by Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels, Lille or Paris and then changing to other high-speed services as necessary). This is certainly true for Benelux and most parts of France, Germany and Switzerland, where the door-to-door journey time is broadly competitive with that by air, once getting to and from the airport, check-in times, etc. are taken into account. There is thus simply no need for most of these flights, which are far more environmentally damaging than their rail equivalents.

(2) Given the journey times nowadays offered by the British railway network, domestic flights within mainland UK are frankly a nonsense, except for the north of Scotland. For environmental and other reasons, it should be public policy of government to discourage such flights strongly by all means possible. Making airlines and their passengers pay the real external costs of their flights would be a good start (e.g. by removing the tax breaks on aviation fuel - or at least giving the same tax breaks to rail operators) so that rail and air modes would be competing on a more level playing field.

(3) Planning should start immediately on a new north-south UK rail line. (This is going to be needed in any case before very long, since the existing trunk rail network will soon be at capacity as a result of present rising levels of demand.) The new line should connect at the London end with the existing HS1 line at St Pancras and go in the first instance to the Midlands via Heathrow Airport, probably along a route similar to that suggested by Greengauge 21. This would transform Heathrow into a rail-air interchange hub, nullifying the argument that UK domestic flights would still be required for interlining purposes.

(4) If all this were done, the claimed increase in future demand for slots and passenger throughput at Heathrow would be much less than is being suggested, and capacity at Heathrow would be freed up for those long-haul journeys which can only practicably be made by air ("far Europe" and intercontinental).

(5) It is frequently asserted that the proposed expansion is necessary to preserve London's position as a world financial centre, on which its economy allegedly depends. It is very odd, in that case, that the present Mayor of London -- who spends much of his time and energy promoting that position -- does not think so, and opposes your plans for Heathrow. In fact, a recent report found that the majority of passengers at Heathrow are not business travellers, as we had been led to believe by the vested interests involved, but holidaymakers, who, if all these unnecessary flights did not exist, would simply go somewhere else on holiday, or use the train, with no disbenefit to the London economy at all.

For all the above reasons, I urge you to scrap forthwith the plans to expand capacity at Heathrow, which if implemented would increase noise, pollution and congestion, destroy communities, and run completely counter to the government's declared aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Yours sincerely,


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