Date published: 18th October 2016

In 2009, Heathrow expansion was given the go-ahead by the Labour Government but, as has happened so often in the past, it was swiftly halted because of the unacceptable environmental impacts associated with it, especially as regards noise and air quality.

This was the scheme that was subject to former Conservative leader David Cameron’s famous “no ifs, no buts” promise.

Since then, Heathrow has repeatedly asserted that its new NW Runway proposals are “an entirely different plan to the one the prime minister rejected… We have changed … We have u-turned so that the prime minister does not need to.”

This is true, Heathrow’s new scheme is entirely different. It is certainly not less impactful, however.

Gatwick has done a study – based on the Airports Commission’s analysis and Heathrow’s own data – to compare the 2009 scheme and the current one and, on almost every measure, the current scheme is much more impactful.

In terms of environmental and sustainability impacts, Heathrow’s present scheme:

  • has a longer runway than the previous scheme and will handle more and much larger aircraft types meaning more noise - 237,100 people within the 57dBA noise contour while the previous scheme in 2030 impacted 206,000 people within the 57dBA noise contour
  • will serve some 20 million more annual passengers that the previous scheme meaning more passenger journeys to and from the airport with the attendant impact on air quality
  • requires a land take of 906 hectares compared to the previous scheme which only required 530 hectares
  • requires the loss of 1,072 residences (when the surface access impacts are included) against a loss of 700 residences for the previous scheme.

The previous scheme avoided realigning 4km of the M25, including 600 metres of tunnel, did not require widening of the M4 or diverting 3.5km of the A4, and overall the surface access requirements were not of a remotely comparable scale.

The previous scheme also did not require rivers to be diverted, or to be placed into two 800m culverts as is required for the new scheme. Indicative assessments show that, with the previous scheme, there would have been no significant risk of flooding downstream, while the new scheme needs an area of 441,000m2 for essential flood mitigation.

The 2009 scheme also did not require the removal, re-provisioning or remediation of:

  • 1.2km overhead power lines
  • energy from waste facility
  • medical waste treatment
  • domestic waste recycling facility
  • Colnbrook logistic centre
  • DHL logistic centre
  • Terminal 5 Sofitel
  • Aurora Hotel, and
  • British Airways Waterside HQ. 

Most important of all and putting this all aside, when Heathrow was halted in 2009, one of the major reasons was concern over air quality - air quality is still at illegal levels in the area around Heathrow.

From Gatwick’s point of view, what it offers is certainty - a quick decision will mean that Gatwick can get started immediately because it simply does not have these barriers to delivery.

Recently Gatwick wrote to the current Prime Minister to pledge that it:

  • Has accelerated its delivery and construction programme – Gatwick can have planning permission in this Parliament and flights operating in the next
  • will cap the number of people affected by noise and directly compensate those most affected
  • will not seek taxpayer subsidy, and
  • as ever, no breach in air quality.

It’s a pretty stark comparison.

Gatwick expansion would secure the same number of new routes and economic benefit Britain needs, can be delivered faster, with dramatically lower environmental impacts, and without the at least £5 billion of taxpayer funding Heathrow would require for surface access improvements. 

Here is a breakdown and summary of the comparison between Heathrow’s 2009 scheme and today’s: