Should Heathrow press ahead with a new runway? Paul Nowak and Ruth Cadbury go head to head
—Aviation is a major British industry. So is the aerospace sector. Together, these two industries employ many thousands of trade union members in high-skill, high-quality jobs. And it does not stop there. Aviation supports further employment in industries such as infrastructure projects, manufacturing and tourism. The Trades Union Congress fully backs the report of the airports commission, calling for a third runway at Heathrow. A Labour commitment to support a third runway at Heathrow would be a clear signal of support for a pro-growth, pro-jobs industrial strategy.
The airports commission forecasts an additional 59,000-77,000 new jobs in the Heathrow area by 2030, along with a hub airport to match London’s status as a global city, if expansion goes ahead. Those are compelling reasons to back a third runway.
Yet the TUC did not back Heathrow over Gatwick. Our unions have members in both and a decision as important as this needed to be independent and evidence-led. What is crucial now is that politicians act on the conclusions of the airports commission report. How many of us have heard it said: ‘The Germans, or the Chinese, are great at taking these big decisions. But the British …’
The expansion of Heathrow is controversial and it is important that criticisms are taken into account. We are clear that the United Kingdom can have a successful aviation sector, but that the sector must develop in a way that is consistent with environmental and climate change solutions, as well as local considerations such as noise pollution.
It is for this reason that we support the demanding conditions placed on Heathrow, relating to environmental protection, as well as Heathrow’s role as an employer. Recommendations include a ban on all scheduled night flights and a legally binding noise envelope which could stipulate no increase above current levels. The airports commission calls for an advanced noise insulation scheme with support for local schools as a priority.
On jobs and skills, the airports commission calls for training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people. Airport expansion will create thousands of new jobs and Heathrow Airport Ltd should work with local authorities and schools to ensure local people, including young people, are able to benefit. The commission agrees with the TUC’s view that Heathrow should support the London living wage. Not yet a living wage employer, it must become one as a matter of priority. We also need to make sure that UK plc benefits from the huge procurement and commissioning opportunities that Heathrow expansion will bring. This project gives us an opportunity to invest in the next generation of apprentices working in manufacturing, construction and engineering firms across the UK.
Finally, the TUC believes that unions and their members need to be at the heart of the expansion plans. Trade union agreements were a hallmark of previous large infrastructure projects, notably Heathrow Terminal Five and both the construction and delivery phases of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. All were better for it. Meaningfully engaging unions and their members will ensure that Heathrow’s expansion is delivered on budget, on time and in a way that benefits the local community. We have done it before and we can do it again.
Paul Nowak is assistant general secretary of the Trades Union Congress
—In his report recommending that the south-east’s next runway should preferably be at Heathrow, Howard Davies has dropped David Cameron a steaming parcel and moved on, his airports commission now disbanded. Some people who know of my long opposition as a councillor in the London borough of Hounslow to Heathrow’s expansion have suggested to me that the game is up and there is nothing left to be done to prevent a third runway being built.
A new runway would mean planes flying overhead for thousands of residents in Osterley, Brentford and Chiswick who had not previously been directly underneath the flightpath. It is irritating for these residents to be told, ‘You knew there was an airport when you moved to west London so you have no right to make a fuss’. Other residents already underneath the flightpath for the existing runways would see their respite periods halved. Three villages in neighbouring Hillingdon would also have to be flattened.
Heathrow expansion is not an issue merely for the 320,000 residents who will experience significantly worse noise, it presents the government with a dilemma with huge national implications.
There are flaws in the way the commission came to its conclusions, and expansion at Heathrow further tilts the aviation sector towards one, ever-growing, magnet at the expense of other airports around London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The economic case for expansion has not been strongly made. Having a large ‘hub’ airport inevitably means that a majority of passengers are transferring, and not contributing to our economy, besides perhaps stopping at duty free as they rush between gates. The notion that Heathrow is losing out to Schiphol and Frankfurt is misleading. Places like Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul are becoming global hubs – and Heathrow will never be able to keep up in a capacity race with them.
We also hear that we need more flights to emerging markets. There is nothing preventing airlines like British Airways or Virgin doing this now. British Airways flies eight times a day to JFK (more if you include its partner American Airlines). It has more than enough slots to add flights to Chengdu, Bangalore or Sao Paolo if it wishes.
How is the government going to deal with Heathrow’s refusal to comply with major conditions set out in the commission’s report – the ban on night flights and future development of the fourth runway? Or its refusal to foot the £5bn bill for road and rail works needed – a level of costs not needed for a new Gatwick runway?
The government will have to address the legal challenge of the air quality levels that already breach European Union limits. The measures outlined in the commission report to bring airport pollution within the limits are simply unfeasible and unachievable.
Another runway at Heathrow will fuel pressures to expand, first with night flights, to be followed soon after by a fourth runway, while the UK’s other airports struggle to compete.
Heathrow is, and can continue to be, Britain’s premier airport, providing jobs for tens of thousands of local people and the economic stimulus to west London without needing another runway and more flights.
Ruth Cadbury is member of parliament for Brentford and Isleworth
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.