Hounslow say that while Heathrow airport’s potential expansion is an issue of huge national importance, “the impact of expansion will be felt locally”, so they are asking residents to say yes or no to a third runway in a community consultation.
The exercise, named “Make Some Noise Over Heathrow”, will see a questionnaire sent to every one of the borough’s 100,000 households, the biggest consultation ever carried out in the borough.
The council recognises Heathrow’s economic importance – 11,000 of its residents work there – and says it does not want the airport to close.
Cllr Colin Ellar, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment, said: “We want to see a better airport, not a bigger airport.”
However, with both Labour and Conservative groups on the council supporting the current policy of no expansion and promising to campaign against a “Yes” vote for a third runway, the consultation risks being a one-sided debate.
There has been criticism of the Hillingdon referendum for this reason. One resident told LookWest: “Whilst Hillingdon/Uxbridge council are giving residents a vote if LHR should be expanded or not, I feel that the local council is not giving both sides of the picture, all I can see is negative advertising, asking residents to vote no. How can this be a fair vote?”
Richmond Council are also conducting a similar exercise, and plan a debate which only includes speakers known to be against the expansion of the airport – which has been criticised as “less of a debate, more of a campaign”.
LookWest’s own survey, conducted at the end of last year, showed that expanding Heathrow was, in the view of LookWest readers, the best solution to the UK’s aviation capacity crisis. Just under half the respondents chose Heathrow – double the number who picked a Thames Estuary airport, which was the next most popular suggestion.
That survey was of a professional audience of course, with only 40% resident in West London, but all having a significant interest in its continued economic success.
The arguments around noise, congestion and pollution are to the fore in the debate. The economic arguments are not so often heard. Our own seminar is one of the few occasions they have been heard in detail.
At that, Lord Soley said: “You want a quieter West London? That’s easy. Close Heathrow and you will have the silence of an economic graveyard.”
The airport supports, directly or indirectly, approaching a quarter of all jobs in the region. If, as Heathrow Airport themselves maintain, it must either expand or close, the choice for Hounslow residents is between increased noise or economic disaster – the loss of 25% of jobs in the area would cripple the economy and potentially do much more damage to local property values than a third or even fourth runway.
Some aviation experts suggest as aircraft are engineered to become less noisy and polluting, the impacts of expansion would in any case not be as large as feared. The Airport suggests only a third runway would be needed, and a number of business bodies and commentators have suggested expanding Heathrow not to the north or south, but to the west, putting runways about a mile towards Windsor.
Hounslow Council say the results of their consultation will be presented to the government later in the summer, alongside the Hillingdon and Richmond polls. The Davies Review will be considering all the options, and will issue an interim report before the end of the year.