The government is pushing plans for a third runway and a sixth terminal. The fifth terminal will open soon. The fifth terminal on its own is the third biggest airport in Europe. When the go-ahead for a fourth terminal was given in 1979 Glidewell, the Chair of the Inquiry, stated, "In my view the present levels of noise around Heathrow are unacceptable in a civilised society." Right first time. The fourth terminal was given the nod on the grounds that that was it. No fifth terminal. Ever. It seems all governments, not just the present one, are terminal liars.
New Labour believes air traffic will increase by 50% between now and 2030. That means they will just let it happen. They are running a ‘consultation’ exercise which is a joke. Local people who have actually been consulted are wondering which part of the word ‘no’ the government doesn’t understand. When Hayes MP John McDonnell wrote asking Ruth Kelly to meet the locals (his constituency covers part of the airport), the Transport Minister showed her utter contempt for the democratic process and the views of ‘little people.’ This is what John wrote back.
"I received the attached letter from your office informing me that you were attending an event hosted by the private sector body London First at Heathrow this week. You will appreciate, I am sure, the concerns that local people have that the Secretary of State is able to attend an event convened by a private sector body whilst no minister has found the time to meet with local residents whose homes and communities are at risk.
“I am sure that you would wish to render my constituents the same courtesy that you have proffered the private sector bodies like London First that are associated with the aviation industry."
Actually, Kelly wouldn’t. She prefers hobnobbing with the bosses.
Twenty rather than fourteen schools locally will experience noise levels above the official nuisance level of 63 decibels if the plan goes ahead. Apart from the noise issue, there is the little matter of the destruction of the village of Sipson with 700 homes. Then poisonous nitrogen dioxide is emitted from planes. That causes breathing problems among local residents.
Above all there is the emission of global warming gases such as carbon dioxide. The government commissioned the Stern Report which declared authoritatively that climate change was happening, that it represents the greatest threat to human life on earth in the twenty-first century and that human activity is partly responsible. Kelly accepts this line. She told the Royal Institute of International Affairs in 2007 that climate change was "one of the biggest threats facing the global community today."
So why is New Labour pressing ahead with a £12 billion project which will increase flights, a major cause of carbon emissions? Here’s who’s against:
- Environmental campaigners
- Local councils. They are organised in the 2M Group because they represent two million Londoners
- Local people organised in Hacan (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise)
Who’s for it? Big business. No contest, really. And guess what? By 2030, when the new terminal is on song, half of all flights will be for business purposes.
People argue that more jobs will be created. They mean more rubbish jobs like those at Gate Gourmet, where workers were paid about £12,000 a year to prepare aircraft meals. How can anyone buy a house in London on that money? When Gate Gourmet workers went on strike for better wages, no other workers on the airport could take effective legal solidarity action on their behalf. The reason? Since they were not employed by the British Airports Authority directly, but by a subcontracting firm, solidarity action would be ‘secondary action’. BAA makes shedloads of money as the monopoly owner of glorified shopping malls, but can’t afford to pay its workers a living wage.
If the plan goes ahead flights will go up from 480,000 a year to 700,000. By 2030 air travel will be responsible for 12-15% of all carbon emissions. But actually it’s worse than that. Scientists argue that because of ‘radiative forcing,’ emissions into the upper atmosphere cause much more damage than those at ground level.
Actually the projections for likely increases in air travel are rubbish. They are based on the guess (for that is all it is) that oil will be $57 a barrel in 2010 and $53 a barrel in 2020. Does anyone believe that projection now oil is above $100 and likely to stay there? And does anyone outside the government think a doubling in the price of aircraft fuel will have no effect on the price of, and demand for, air travel?
Even if the projection was right, the government is literally gambling on the survival of the planet. The Climate Change Bill currently going through Parliament accepts that a 60-80% reduction of emissions is necessary by 2050. John McDonnell has argued that sharper reductions are called for. In any case air travel is excluded from the assumptions of the Bill. Why? Because of pressure from big business. There could be no clearer indication that capitalism is the main threat to our environment