Friday, 16 January 2009

Third runway approved!

Yesterday, the UK government announced their intention to press ahead with the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Anyone who's been following these plans for a while will know that the decision was a fait accompli, despite a lengthy 'consultation period' last year.

In 2007, when I first learnt about the plans for a third runway at Heathrow, I couldn't believe the absurdity of the proposal. Under the pretense of "increased competitiveness", the government (along with its 'independent advisors') was proposing to bulldoze a community in West London and cram in another runway and terminal, next to one of the busiest parts of roadway in Europe.

If the third runway opens in 2020, flight numbers are set to increase 27% from 480,000 to 605,000, yet somehow the government believes the current high pollution levels will stay below EU danger levels, despite the massive increase in transport around the airport. How did they come to these impressive conclusions? Simple, they based their forecasts on the emissions from a fictitious jet which neither Boeing or Airbus plan on building.

There's not much space to build a runway in crowded West London so, in order to create some, it's been decreed that nearby Sipson is razed to the ground. How can a government in the 21st Century just decide to wipe an entire village off the map? Indeed, nothing like this has been seen since the Highland Clearances of the 1800s. Could it be that Sipson is not a particularly pretty part of London and that its inhabitants don't have much money or influence? Believe me, this decision would not have been made if it were the politicians' haunts of Islington or Pimlico located next to Heathrow.

In January 2008, a Boeing 777 crash-landed on the outskirts of the airport. Were it not for the skill of the pilot and proximity to the perimeter, the plane could well have landed on the nearby residential areas of Hounslow or Hillingdon. Two months later, Terminal 5 opened to a chaotic fanfare of lost luggage and stranded, irate passengers which culminated in a subsequent apology from BA. So bad was the Terminal 5 debacle that the House of Commons Transport Committee branded it a 'national embarrassment' which had actually managed to damage our country's reputation abroad.

Somehow we are expected to believe that the companies which brought you Terminal 5 and a crash landing on our doorsteps in 2008 will manage to smoothly open a new runway in one of the the busiest airspaces in the world. Teething problems with the third runway won't just be people's suitcases going awry, it will be planes falling out of the sky!

So here we have it. Massive increases in carbon emissions, air and noise pollution, increased flights over central London (with higher probability of one of them landing on the city), demolition of houses, schools and communities, increased traffic congestion coupled with a sham consultation.

This begs the question, how can any sane person come to such an obviously bad conclusion; a decision which cannot be undone and will blight generations to come, if it goes ahead?

Unfortunately. the answer is simple and also very depressing.

A small number of people in the government, BA and BAA stand to make a great deal if this development goes ahead, at the expense of millions of Londoners' living standards. Although the government would like to make you think otherwise this is simply a case of cold cash vs quality of life, nothing more, nothing less.

It's a sad state of affairs which makes me wonder how Gordon Brown and Geoff Hoon sleep at night, knowing their decisions will directly worsen the lives of so many people living in the South East

So, what are we to do to prevent this ludicrous proposal gaining even more traction?

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