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1 July 2015

A third runway would be bad news for Londoners and London

For environmental and economic reasons, a third runway at Heathrow is simply the wrong approach, says Sadiq Khan.

By Sadiq Khan

The Airport Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong decision for London and for Britain. It would damage the health and well-being of tens of thousands of Londoners, without making the most of the potential economic benefits of a new runway. If I’m elected as Mayor next May I will do everything in my power to stop this recommendation becoming a reality. Londoners need a Mayor who will stand up for them against a third runway at Heathrow. 

As a Londoner who sometimes flies to get away from it all, as resident of south west London and as a person committed to the economic health of our great city, I know how important it is we get our aviation policy right. We are a global city, trading with partners on every continent, seeking to attract investment from all over the world. Without improved, world-class aviation links, we will fall behind our closest competitors in Europe. And as the economies of Brazil, India, China and others offer new avenues to trade, we must ensure that we are still very much open for business. We can’t afford to have blocked the way by not being able to compete for new global routes, with the business and jobs that they bring. 

However, it is crystal clear that the economic arguments in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are outweighed by the damage it would cause communities, families and air quality across London. London’s air quality is becoming the biggest domestic environmental crisis of our time. Responsible for as many as 7,500 deaths each year (4,300 at the most conservative official estimates), doctors warn people not to go jogging in London on certain days, and in some parts of London children’s lungs are underdeveloped.

The air which Londoners have no choice but to breathe on a daily basis has become a disgrace. It is long-past time for urgent and meaningful action; I have recently suggested that this should include the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, an expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone and moving towards an all-electric bus fleet. We need to reject a third runway at Heathrow which is so close to so many Londoners as part of a plan to clean up the capital’s air. 

This alone should be reason enough for the Government to reject Heathrow expansion in favour of Gatwick – the expansion of which will be less damaging in terms of clean air, in a far less populated area. But clean air is just one part of the environmental damage that an expanded Heathrow would cause to Londoners lives. Its unique proximity to such a densely populated area also means that hundreds of thousands are subjected to the roar of Heathrow air traffic – more than the combined total of the other four largest European hubs (Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and Frankfurt). Building a third runway would mean a huge increase in the number of Londoners affected – possibly to hundreds of thousands more. Gatwick’s noise affects far fewer people – only a few thousand. With a second runway, the modelled noise contour would only take in around 6,300 people. 

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And there is an economic case for Gatwick too. While well connected by train to central London (via Victoria, London Bridge and St Pancras), it also has the advantage of quick, direct services to Clapham Junction and East Croydon, making these increasingly attractive areas in which to do business. Indeed, the possibility of a new business clusters in Croydon and adjacent areas makes Gatwick a potential game changer for South London. 

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There’s also an argument that what London needs is not one ever larger hub airport, but a second primary airport both to challenge and to complement it. The hub airport model is not the best way to grow, not least as the range of aircraft increases. And in the long term I hope that a high-speed link between the two airports can be developed to open the possibility of fast ‘Heathwick’ transfer – it’s something that I will push for as Mayor. Moreover, an expanded Gatwick can provide the impetus for a better Heathrow – challenging an airport that has never had to face direct local competition, benefiting workers and customers alike. 

There may well be an economic case for expanding Heathrow, but the decision needs to be taken in the round, not least as a question of trust for Londoners. For far too long, again and again, they have had broken promises, including pledging to limit night flights, and not to build new terminals and even to rule out permanently building a third runway. They have been let down too often. When there is a viable and very attractive alternative it is only right that we fight for that. For me its clear which runway is the right way.