In June 2018 the proposed new runway project at Heathrow achieved outline planning consent, through its Parliamentary majority of 296 in a vote of MPs.
It is set to be the biggest privately funded infrastructure project in the world. However, there are still many hoops it must jump through before the first plane can take off, which should happen come the year 2026.
The scheme’s critics have focussed their concerns largely on the impacts of noise and air pollution. As someone who grew up close to the airport I can relate to those concerns – the project isn’t just about 180,000 new jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships, its also need to be about the quality of life for local people.
However, it is very important to remember that aviation has moved on a great deal in recent years. In terms of noise, aircraft are now quieter, less polluting and improving year-on-year. Although the number of aircraft using Heathrow has doubled since the 1970s, the footprint of those affected by noise has reduced by 90 per cent. Technology is moving on at a rapid pace. But it’s important to remember the here and now too, this project is not about promising jam tomorrow, and neither should it be. Which is where the help of a senior environmentalist has helped to make a radical difference.
Tony Juniper, the former executive director of Friends of the Earth has been closely involved in the sustainability plan for the Heathrow expansion plan. With Juniper’s input, a strategy with real impact was produced, a strategy which can change the way all airports look at their impact on their neighbourhoods.
As part of that vision, Heathrow aims to make the airport carbon neutral by 2050 and it has already achieved its target of being 100 per cent powered by renewable electricity. By 2020, Heathrow will convert its vehicle fleet to either electric or plug-in hybrid.
The Heathrow expansion will never convince all its critics. It has a national responsibility to boost the local and national economy, but it is also going beyond its local environs to enhance the airport’s sustainability.
Better public transport links play a key role in this. For many years the airport has needed better public transport links. Major transport infrastructure projects like Western Rail access, HS2, new Southern access, the completion of Crossrail and major improvements to the Piccadilly line will help to ensure that in the future over half of all journeys to Heathrow will be by public transport. That work is not complete, but it is certainly taking shape, each day.
Perhaps Juniper’s biggest influence on Heathrow has been on its involvement in a plan to restore peatlands to offset its carbon. Peatlands cover 12 per cent of the United Kingdom, of which 80 per cent are in poor condition. As well as putting one of world’s busiest airports on a path to carbon neutrality, the peatlands restoration project will have real benefits for wildlife.
Heathrow will not win over every critic of expansion, but by involving serious environmentalists it is showing a path towards a greener world of aviation which other airports can follow.