Expanding Heathrow will harm the climate and people’s lives

Last night, the House of Commons voted to approve the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement [1]. This paves the way for a third runway at Heathrow, and signals the government’s intention to fly in the face of international climate change agreements, as well as ignoring those calling for public transport connections, air pollution and noise pollution to be addressed first.

The Government is prioritising the interests of multinational firms. They will not be able to expand the airport without breaching environmental or emissions limits. Especially as the government has promised to sustain regional flights, the reverse of what its own Airports Commission said was needed for it to stay within carbon emission limits. Greenpeace note that the government’s latest figures predict that aviation emissions will rise by 7.3 million tonnes CO2 each year by 2030 if a third runway is built at Heathrow — equivalent to the annual climate impact of Cyprus. Yet the Government has also promised that aviation emissions will not rise about 2005 levels. This is impossible.

Surrey’s 11 MPs all voted for the runway, ignoring the views of thousands of our residents who are desperately concerned about the local environmental cost of expansion, as well as the pursuit of an unsustainable growth model which will damage the British economy. The current pattern of London-centred growth, which this will further embed, is increasing inequality in the UK. This decision will increase the pressure to build houses, workplaces and infrastructure on Surrey’s Green Belt. The assurances that the local environment and congestion will not be made worse by the plans need to be held to account.

There is a better way. Instead of infrastructure that strengthens the links between London and global cities around the world, the UK government should be investing first in renewable energy and sustainable technologies, which will better spread new employment across the UK. This is possible, and will create jobs in areas where they are required, regenerating rural communities and those with high levels of unemployment – rather than requiring further inward migration to the South East.  

Sometimes Government must demonstrate leadership. It must do what is right for the future of all, not what is desired by elite and corporate interests. In the face of hard evidence of the impacts of aviation expansion, both locally and globally, our Government should write a sustainable transport plan that would improve the livelihoods of those already blighted by aviation, and the life chances of those already living on climate change’s front line.

Surrey County Council should now, belatedly, join with Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead, who are planning a joint legal challenge to the Government’s plan to build a new runway, backed by London mayor Sadiq Khan and Greenpeace. Surrey owes it to its residents to join them in opposing these highly damaging plans.



[1]  415 MPs backed the third runway, with 119 against. 119 Labour MPs backed the runway; 94 opposed. Only 8 Tories opposed. The SNP abstained.




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