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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Heathrow Runway consultation: No new runway say Green MEPs

31 May 2017

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London and Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East have submitted a joint response to the Government’s consultation on new runway capacity in the South East of England.

Jean and Keith’s response focuses on the following issues:

  • they reject the Government’s argument that there is a need for new runway capacity in the region
  • the economic benefit from the proposed new runway (the Heathrow Northwest scheme) is extremely questionable and will do nothing to rebalance the UK economy
  • the proposed new runway and its operation will have significant negative impacts, especially in terms of climate change, air pollution, traffic congestion, noise, and impacts on local communities and the environment
  • the measures proposed by the Government fail to address these negative impacts
  • the proposed new runway will undermine UK carbon reduction targets and objectives and will make London’s already dangerous air pollution worse.

You can read Jean and Keith’s full submission here.

You can read their response to question 1, on the Government’s case for the need for new runway capacity, below.

The need for additional airport capacity

Question 1: The Government believes there is the need for additional airport capacity in the South East of England by 2030. Please tell us your views.

We do not believe the Government has made a convincing case for the need for additional airport capacity in the South East of England and London. (In the context of this submission we are using the term ‘South East’ to also apply to London.)

The consultation ignores the fact that Airports Commission forecasts show that growth in UK demand would be met by other airports, both elsewhere in the South East, but also outside the South East, where there already exists spare capacity.

In terms of connectivity, Airports Commission analysis shows that a third Heathrow runway will reduce the international connectivity of the UK’s regional airports. Rather than being a necessary response to a ‘need’, a third runway at Heathrow will have the effect of displacing connectivity from other regions.

The Government has elsewhere said it wants to rebalance the UK economy in favour of areas outside the South East. We strongly challenge the claim that a significant net economic benefit will arise from airport expansion in the South East. However, creating additional airport capacity within the South East goes directly against that objective of rebalancing the UK, especially in terms of infrastructure and investment.

We also question the value placed on ‘Heathrow’s hub status’. A large proportion of international passengers using Heathrow as a hub simply change planes there, and are travelling from one international destination to another without any UK stopover. No quantification of the economic value of these passengers has been made, yet there is an assumption that these interchange flights are economically beneficial and should be encouraged and provided for. We question that assumption.

We question both the need and the benefit of expanding Heathrow and of airport expansion in the South East more generally, and conclude that the case has not been made. Indeed the benefits have been significantly overstated, and the costs and impacts significantly understated.

In particular, we are concerned about how the economic benefit argument is presented. The Department for Transport is claiming Heathrow expansion will deliver an economic benefit of £61 billion. However, this is a gross figure, which does not take into account the direct and indirect costs, and does not factor in other costs, such as the climate, noise and air pollution impacts, as well as the social costs to affected local communities and the wide range of negative impacts that will arise from those.

On the issue of the required surface access improvements, the cost projections are disputed. Transport for London (TfL) estimates surface access improvements will cost £15 billion, which includes a new southern rail link from Waterloo to Heathrow. The Department for Transport is insisting on a much lower figure. In its 2015 submission, TfL conclude that the Airports Commission proposed £5bn cost underestimates the actual cost by £10-15bn. (See, p29.) As London’s transport provider, TfL’s surface access cost assessments needs to be more fully taken into account.

The ‘need’ to expand capacity is also based on demand forecasts. However, air travel demand and its growth is highly price-sensitive and will continue to be. Given that aviation is predicted to make up an increasing proportion of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and international aviation is likely to establish carbon pricing regimes for flights, it should not be assumed that the current era of tax-free fuel and low cost flights will continue indefinitely. Mitigating the impacts of carbon intensive activities like flying by applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle effectively, could therefore impact on future demand levels. This is even more possible given the aforementioned price-sensitivity of air travel demand. These factors have not, we believe, been properly taken into account when formulating the policy.

Furthermore, the likely impact of Brexit on aviation demand needs to be taken into consideration. According to a briefing published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in June 2016 (, “the number of UK air passengers could be 3-5% lower by 2020, driven by the expected downturn in economic activity and the fall in the sterling exchange rate. The near-term impact on the UK air freight market is less certain, but freight will be affected by lower international trade in the longer term.” The EU is the single biggest destination market from the UK accounting for 49% of passengers and 54% of scheduled commercial flights.

In addition to our concerns regarding climate change, noise and air pollution, as outlined above, there is certainly also a good reason to call for the demand for a new runway to be reassessed in view of the UK’s exit from the EU.

In sum, we believe that the need for airport expansion in the South East and London has not been demonstrated. The costs – in terms of financial costs, air pollution, climate, noise and community impacts have not been sufficiently taken into account. The economic benefits arising from increased capacity in the South East have been overstated. Once the negative impacts and true costs are fully taken into account, we believe that no net benefit will arise. In addition, airport expansion in the South East will do nothing to rebalance the UK economy.