Desperate bid by Heathrow to win PM's support

With a decision on airport expansion in the South East imminent, Heathrow has released “a package of conditions” aimed at enabling the Prime Minister to break his “No Ifs, No Buts, No Third Runway” pledge.

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron

Together with a press release, Heathrow’s Chief Executive, John Holland-Kaye, has provided the commentary for a new video in which he announces that he has personally written to the Prime Minister. His letter details the airport’s long-term plan explaining how we will not only meet but exceed those environmental requirement, “These commitments are tough but they are fair”

The reality is that we’ve heard all this before. Heathrow is proving itself to be every bit as devious as when it called itself BAA or even the British Airports Authority, when it had a string of British airports in its portfolio. Now, Heathrow Airport Holdings has just one airport and it is going to do whatever it takes to squeeze as much profit out of it as possible. If that means issuing some phoney pledges, so be it.

At SHE we are not expecting to see a ban on night flights. Almost exactly two years ago, on 19th May 2014, the press reported comments by Akbar Al-Baker of Qatar Holdings, which has a 20% stake in Heathrow. He advocated a 24-hour operation and said that residents would adapt to the noise. Al-Baker continued to make himself unpopular with Heathrow’s neighbours by saying they enjoyed excessive freedom and made too much fuss!

Heathrow has also said it will support the introduction of an independent noise authority. That just looks like another layer of bureaucracy. Inevitably, residents will get more noise (not just from planes in flight but from all the other airport-related actives). Knowing that someone might be fined for breaking the rules doesn’t help people suffering from the noise impacts.

Likewise, Heathrow has pledged not to add new capacity unless it can do so without delaying UK compliance with EU air quality limits yet we all know that it has failed to meet the pledges it made to comply by 2015. You may remember that 2015 was the date that the third runway as due to be operation under the last scheme. Heathrow assured everyone that by 2015 every vehicle would meet strict EU limits and aircraft would be so clean that there was no point in a discussion on air quality. The fact the EU had regulations and Britain was compelled to meet them was a guarantee, according to the “experts” wheeled out at consultations.

How wise we were to be sceptical. No one gets a penalty for breaking EU limits. Car manufacturers have found ways to cheat the tests, which adds to the problem. There has been slow progress on air quality with two runways so what are the chances of making improvements with years of construction followed by a third runway?

Forget pledges about mitigation and compensation. In the cold light of day these are aimed at making you think you are getting a good deal. What sort of deal destroys your health and your home and thinks that money will make it better. It won’t. You’ll only get some sort of mitigation if you are hugely impacted. Most of us already suffering with two runways have found that we are not considered eligible. As for compensation for losing your home and community, how much is that worth? Remember you have to find somewhere else to live. If you are a landlord or tenant you almost certainly won’t be eligible because there just isn’t enough money in the pot. Ask yourself why Heathrow has not put any details in writing. At the moment the pledge on compensation is just words.

Next is the real sickener – Heathrow would accept any Government decision to rule out building a fourth runway in the future. We heard this lie regarding a third runway back in the 1990s. Heathrow said it would welcome any legislation that would ensure there was no third runway, just as long as it got permission for Terminal Five. Soon after construction on T5 started, the first concrete was barely dry, and the calls for a third runway started all over again. You can’t bind future governments to an agreement of this sort anyway.

Sir Howard Davies has admitted that some of the recommendations at the end of the Airports Commission report, supporting expansion at Heathrow, were added as sweeteners. Since 1st July 2015, when it was published, the report has been picked apart and its conclusions challenged. Massive issues, like the damage to health, were not examined. Davies didn’t like the word “crash” either.

At least John Holland-Kaye has put his hard hat, hi-viz and shovel away. The gang-ho attitude of July 2015 has been replaced by a more gentle delivery. The CEO says in his letter, “We have acted now to let you and your government make the right choice, in the long-term interest of our country.” It will be interesting to see what his reaction will be when the decision is made that our best interests are served by burying the idea of a third runway for good.