BAA publishes Heathrow Expansion Plan

Airport operator wants third runway and sixth terminal

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BAA has published its plans for the future showing that a third runway and a sixth terminal are central to its vision for the expansion of Heathrow airport. It has resulted in a furious reaction from groups opposed to the growth of the airport on environmental grounds.

Aside from £4.2 billion earmarked for Terminal 5, the plan sets out how the company aims to invest a further £3 billion over the next ten years to rejuvenate and develop the rest of the airport. Following that the controversial extra runway and terminal are envisaged by the airport's operator. The third runway would be to the north of the two existing runways and shorter, so it would not be able to accommodate the very largest jets. The report argues that there would be a need to build a sixth terminal if the third runway is built.

The publication of this plan does not mean that permission has been given for a third runway or sixth terminal. They would still need to go though a public consultation and Public Enquiry process.

Mick Temple, Managing Director, BAA Heathrow, said, "We are proud of the fact that Heathrow offers enormous benefits to the local and national economies, but are also keenly aware that our operations have a significant impact on our surrounding communities. The challenge for us is to secure the continued growth and benefits of Heathrow in a way which is both socially and environmentally responsible." The government is currently carrying out studies on the feasibility of additional runway capacity at Heathrow and will report back towards the end of 2006. A third Runway at Heathrow would allow an increase in flights from 480,000 a year to 655,000 in 2015

Depending on the final scheme, any potential development could affect up to 700 houses according to BAA's numbers. They will shortly be publishing property blight schemes to assist those homes which may be adversely affected by these plans. Lobby group HACAN Clearskies say that a large number of people will be hit by long term uncertainty that their homes may one day be under a flight path. Places such as Ealing, Acton and North Chiswick, which previously experienced relatively little aircraft noise may now have the prospect of regular flights over local homes. The Government's White Paper, estimated that around 150,000 people under the new flight path would experience noise levels in excess of 54 decibels (averaged out throughout the day) - the level where the World Health Organisation has found that the noise will be becoming seriously annoying.

This interim plan has been prepared as a consultation document so that BAA can receive feedback regarding the work it proposes to do to develop the airport. The consultation period continues until the end of October 2005 and an updated interim master plan is likely to be published during 2006.

John Stewart of HACAN Clearskies said, “There is nothing new in today’s announcement from BAA. All these proposals were in the White Paper. But they do confirm the way that both the Government and the aviation industry are prepared to play with people’s lives in order to get what they want.”

The White Paper suggested that a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow be put on the back-burner until at least 2015 because of the concern that they might result in EU legal limits for air pollution, due to come in at the end of 2009, being broken.

Local London Assembly Member Richard Barnes said, “Heathrow is big enough and we haven’t even finished building Terminal Five yet! The answer to the lack of capacity in South East England is not to keep expanding Heathrow. The government needs to bite the bullet and build a new airport away from major towns and cities.”

The need for expansion has been backed by former Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush MP, Clive Soley who has joined lobby group Future Heathrow. He argues that West London could go into economic decline if Heathrow's expansion is curtailed. He said, "The one impossible option is the maintenance of the status quo. Heathrow can either decline or develop. It cannot stay as it is."

His stance has attracted fierce criticism from the local green lobby. Nic Ferriday, spokesperson for West London Friends of the Earth commented, "The Future Heathrow group is indulging in irresponsible scare mongering about the economics whilst ignoring the impacts a third runway would have on local communities and global climate change. By leading this group, Mr Soley has abandoned his commitment to a more sustainable aviation policy and the health interests of his former constituents. He has betrayed everyone living in West London.

According to the Green Party aviation is the fastest growing source of climate-changing gases. Heathrow already contributes some 11 million tonnes pa of carbon dioxide, the main climate-changing or greenhouse gas. Tom Fisher, spokesperson for Ealing Green Party, said "The Government itself predicts that with a third runway and without drastic action on road traffic, 35,000 people could be breathing air by 2015 that breaches UK and EU limits set to protect human health."

Friends of the Earth argue that 5 of the 6 top destinations served by Heathrow are also served by high-speed rail links which account for just an eight of the carbon emissions per passenger of airplanes. They claim that the aviation industry in the UK currently receives an effective subsidy of £9 billion per annum in the form of tax exemptions. Heathrow's share of these tax exemptions is about over £3.5 billion per annum. If this subsidy were removed they claim demand would increase more slowly and no new runways would be necessary before 2030.

June 7, 2005