Residents debated the pros and cons of potential expansion at Heathrow Airport during a public meeting this week.
Impacts on the borough from a new runway were considered at H&F Council’s Community Safety, Environment and Residents' Services Policy and Accountability Committee, when it met at the town hall on Tuesday (January 13).
The topic also sparked a lively conversation on Twitter as the meeting took place. Ulrike Bullerby tweeted: “Personally against ANY airport expansion. But certainly against one at Heathrow.” And Alex Ferguson responded: “Actually like the idea. Fed up with the delays. But I hope the runway will be extended rather than a new one put in.”
Committee chair Cllr Larry Culhane pointed to the divisive nature of the topic, introducing it as ‘an issue that provokes big reactions from people’.
During the meeting, the community heard the findings of a report by the H&F Commission on Airport Expansion (HFCAE), which is formed of local residents and supported by H&F Council.
The commission investigated the potential impacts on the borough, based on the Airports Commission’s consultation, and its findings were summarised at the meeting by commission chair Christina Smyth, a borough resident of 32 years.
Thanking the council for its assistance with the commission’s work, she then expressed its concerns with ‘gaps’ in data on flight path locations, non-localised noise assessments and lack of analysis on air quality impacts.
The Airport’s Commission consultation had shortlisted three options for runway expansion in the south of England to ensure the UK remained Europe’s aviation hub. Those proposals included a new runway at Gatwick and two options for expansion at Heathrow.
Christina concluded: “If Heathrow were to expand under either of the options, H&F would enjoy some economic and leisure benefits, though these would be far outweighed by the adverse effects of additional flights overhead, additional flight paths over the borough, additional noise, road and public transport congestion, worse air quality and uncertainty about precise impacts for many years.”
In reply, Fulham resident Angus Fanshawe, spoke out about safety, citing two recent incidents as concerns; the Nats traffic control computer failure at Heathrow Airport and the emergency landing at Gatwick Airport.
“I think safety is a much bigger consideration than noise actually. I just feel it is a far more important issue for the borough and we burying our head in the sand thinking it [an accident] can’t happen,” he said.
While retired solicitor David Fishwick moved to Hammersmith five years ago and felt any doubt over whether there was an issue for local residents would be reflected in house prices.
He said: “There is a simple test that one can make about the economic problems arising from aircraft going over. If I or anyone else is selling their house, do we disclose to a purchaser, ‘Life is hell living in H&F’? If the answer is yes, it is a very cogent answer to whether there is a real problem.”
But Andrew Harden, a borough resident of 17 years, felt the airport and the borough had a reciprocal relationship and expressed concern that not allowing Heathrow to expand could be harmful.
He said: “What you don’t want to do is kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Other things do depend on the economic wealth of west London, there are benefits in a growing Heathrow and there are benefits from jobs. If you choke it off, there’s a threat.”
Christina responded to clarify that no reference to Heathrow closing had been made at any point in the commission’s report.
As well as attending the meeting and commenting on Twitter, a large number of residents also made their views known on the council’s website.
Mike Butcher said: “West London already suffers from pollution, in excess of EU levels in many areas. Any increase in airline capacity/flights will increase already totally unacceptable levels of noise and atmospheric pollution. Flights should be reduced. A Thames estuary airport seems a good idea.”
The commission’s report will be submitted directly as a response to the Airports Commission consultation.
H&F Council’s response to that consultation, which is yet to be finalised, will be informed by the residents’ work.