Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed a third Heathrow runway. Over a number of years our national leader, our London MEP, our London MPs, our council leaders and councillors, as well as our London Assembly Members, have all been totally united in opposing any significant expansion of Heathrow.
No one denies Heathrow is an international hub and plays a key role in London’s economy. This does not mean it needs to expand. Rather, it needs its existing capacity to be used more sensibly. A ‘predict and provide” policy long been discredited in relation to road travel - it is time we now recognise that we also need to check the growth in air traffic.
If the proposals for a third Heathrow runway go ahead there will be a flight every 90 seconds. 750 homes will be destroyed and an estimated 100,000 children’s education affected by the noise. There will be more cars clogging up roads to the airport and the noise and disturbance will affect literally millions of Londoners due to new flight paths.
Communities like Ealing and Hammersmith will experience the roar of a jumbo jet overhead for the first time and places such as Richmond and Hounslow will face aircraft flying over for a much longer proportion of each day. However noise levels will increase much further afield. Take a look at the excellent website http://www.2mgroup.org.uk for evidence of how people as far away as Southwark, Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley will also be affected.
London air quality will also take a further hit – despite the fact that London is already in breach of European minimum requirements.
The continual expansion of air travel will also undermine any attempts to tackle climate change. The third runway will be the source of more carbon dioxide than the whole of Kenya. Aircraft already account for 13% of Britain’s greenhouse gases. This Government will never be taken seriously on climate change until they say no to a third Heathrow runway, and no to the expansion of the other four London airports.
So what are the alternatives?
Already there is little justification for short-hall flights to Brussels and Paris as travelling by train is now faster from city centre to city centre. We now need to go further and encourage German and Dutch railways to make use of the Channel Tunnel.
Liberal Democrats have proposed the construction of a new direct high-speed rail line from Heathrow to Birmingham, using existing track to reach Manchester and Scotland. This would enable air passengers arriving from abroad to transfer at the airport to a high-speed rail service delivering them rapidly to the centres of northern cities, with no need for connecting air flights.
The construction of a high-speed rail direct from Heathrow to the North and Scotland would significantly reduce the need to expand Heathrow Airport while providing more sustainable and environmentally friendly journeys within the UK.
For far too long the economic benefits of the continual expansion of Heathrow airport have been exaggerated, while the real environmental and social costs have been underestimated.
Given the adverse consequences for London in terms of air quality, noise, sustainable development, climate change and loss of houses – not to mention the many alternatives that exist to continual airport expansion – Liberal Democrats unequivocally reject any plans for a third Heathrow Runway or any other form of expansion.
Caroline Pidgeon AM is the Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson on the London Assembly.
The full text of the London Assembly Liberal Democrat Group response to the Government's consultation on Air Transport in the South East can be viewed by visiting the files and reports page on the London Assembly Liberal Democrats website.