This week, the government approved the expansion of a third runway at Heathrow airport. To be clear, this is the point of departure, not arrival. Parliament will now scrutinise the detail of the proposals carefully, and vote on the decision next year. Nevertheless, after years of uncertainty, the decision has been announced, I want to set out my position for local constituents.
In short, I support the decision in principle, but I will want to spend the months ahead nailing down the detail of the assurances and conditions that most affect us locally, especially around noise and air quality. I say that as someone who lives directly under the current flight paths, and appreciates first-hand the concerns of local residents about noise levels. My reasons are as follows.
First, I believe the economic case for expanding Heathrow (compared to the other options) is persuasive. A new runway will boost UK economic competitiveness and growth, by serving ten to twelve new daily long-haul destinations, helping the UK to expand global trade, increasing long haul passenger travel, and expanding air freight. Locally, over 1,000 people’s jobs are already directly or indirectly related to Heathrow, so expansion will boost jobs growth in the area. Heathrow have also specifically committed to delivering extra apprenticeships locally.
Second, recognising concerns around noise and air quality, I believe that the process of hammering out the details of the plans provides us with an opportunity to secure a better deal than we have at present. The government has announced a £2.6billion package of ‘mitigation’ measures, involving community support and compensation (as well as business rate retention), home insulation, periods of noise respite (including a six and a half hour night flight ban), legally binding noise limits, and a binding commitment not to expand before certain air quality standards are met.
The Civil Aviation Authority (the independent regulator) says the impact on air quality in Elmbridge will be negligible, while Airports Commission state that noise levels will be reduced overall for Elmbridge residents. There are wider aviation policy issues beyond Heathrow’s expansion, around ‘stacking’ of flights and the balance between concentration and dispersal of flight paths, that can now be properly addressed as a result of the decision on Heathrow.
Last year, I wrote to the Transport Secretary on all of these issues, so I am pleased to see our concerns have been addressed. My job now will be to listen to the outstanding concerns residents have, and perhaps most importantly nail down the detail of the local conditions and assurances – so we get very the best overall deal for Elmbridge.
I appreciate some will be disappointed by the news. Generally, however, I also note that a poll by Populus covering Elmbridge residents (available on Elmbridge Borough Council’s website), found 45% supported Heathrow’s expansion, with 34% opposed. Every local ward within the borough also revealed net support for expansion, even those most affected by current noise levels. In any event, I am 100% committed to fighting, on behalf of our whole community, to secure the best deal possible in the months ahead.