Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Jean on Heathrow

As you might expect, Jean has been speaking out strongly against the recently announced plans to expand Heathrow airport. It is madness, not only on climate change grounds, but also for the many hundreds of people whose homes will be bulldozed, and the many thousands who will suffer from increased air and noise pollution in London. Her full statement follows below.

In approving a third runway at Heathrow, the Government has shown a total disregard not just for the environment but for the lives of ordinary people who live around the airport, and many thousands of Londoners who live in the shadow of its flight paths.

It’s simply astounding that the Government lacks concern for the consequences of expansion when the facts are so clear.

Seven hundred homes will have to be destroyed to make way for the expansion. Nurseries, schools, care homes, an entire village are to be sacrificed, as communities pay the price for this decision.

The air around Heathrow already contains dangerously high levels of pollutants, notably nitrogen dioxide, far exceeding air quality standards set by the EU. Tougher standards are due to come into force in 2010, and yet the Government has just taken the first step towards allowing an additional 220,000 flights per year at Heathrow.

The planned expansion can only make a bad situation even worse, and could end up costing Britain millions of Euros in fines if the European Commission won’t agree to the UK’s call for a derogation, which would allow an extra five years to meet the targets. The Government cannot be allowed to get away with this, and I will be doing all I can in the European Parliament to fight its demand for a derogation.

Current estimates show that over 1000 Londoners die prematurely and a further 1000 are hospitalized every year as a result of air pollution. Further damage to citizens’ long-term health will be a direct and troubling outcome of today’s announcement.

Noise pollution from aircraft has disrupted the lives of Londoners for many years, and research has even found a direct link between increased noise from air traffic and delays in the reading age of primary school children. Despite this, the Government’s plans will leave generations of Londoners in the surrounding communities, and as far away as Camden Town and Tooting, disturbed by an inescapable soundtrack, day and night.

The Government promises that the third runway will bring thousands of jobs, and that it is essential to ensure that London remains competitive with other world cities. But, as leading opponents have pointed out, it has made no effort to calculate the costs of the environmental damage that the third runway will cause.

It also promises an economic boost from tourism, but here, too, the sums don’t add up. Heathrow is already just a waiting room for many travellers: 18 million passengers arrive at the airport every year simply to transfer to another international flight. That figure is expected to double by 2030.

With the critical threat of climate change there shouldn’t be a trade-off between priorities like this: the environment has to be the priority, to protect our quality of life, now and in the future. Ordinary people have been striving to change their own lives and go green, but in this single decision the Government has revealed its commitment to the environment is nothing more than throwaway.

The Government says it will pump more money into public transport, and announced a study into a new high-speed rail link from Heathrow to central London today, but this ought to be an alternative, not an add-on to airport expansion. We need investment in high-quality, affordable rail travel so we can cut the short-haul internal flights which are clogging up our airports and taking a huge toll on the environment. One argument that has been made for the third runway is that it will reduce congestion. If the Government was serious about this it would be taking major steps to end the need for these short-haul air trips altogether.

Today’s announcement is deeply disappointing, but as opponents we feared it was inevitable. We can take heart from the imaginative and inspiring protests that have been taking place against the expansion of Heathrow – examples of people power at its best – and we must all keep up the pressure and continue to fight this scandalous development.

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