Submission by John McDonnell MP for Hayes and Harlington
Whatever one feels about the expansion of Heathrow, there comes a time now when we have to have honesty. Of every expansion, we have been told as a community that there would be no further expansion. I have been in this area for 40 years. I have represented in Parliament my constituency for 17 years. Before that, I was a GLC councillor. I held my first meetings about Heathrow expansion in the early 1970s. Over the years since then I have been at every public hearing announcing expansion proposals. I have been at every planning application inquiry, and at every one we have been told by Heathrow airport, ‘If we get this expansion, that will be the limit’. On the last occasion at a specially convened public meeting in a local hotel a letter was read to us by a senior airport representative saying, ‘We do not need and we will not seek a third runway’. With the greatest respect to Heathrow Ltd, as a corporate body Heathrow Limited like BAA before it just cannot be trusted.
I want to raise a number of questions that have come from my constituents, who have waded through the Commission’s documentation. I want to congratulate the Commission for the work it has done. This is the first time we have had this detailed appraisal in this way. In addition to that, this is the first time any commission has actually looked at issues around quality of life and community. I commend Sir Howard Davies and his colleagues for doing that.
The question from my constituents whose homes are going to be affected is: ‘Where will we go?’ We were told first of all the numbers at risk started at about 300. They then went to 783, then plus another 289. That was about 3,000 who would lose their homes. We were then told there would be others affected by the A4 relocation. Now Heathrow Limited have come up with a compensation scheme that actually comes near to the figure we ourselves predicted, which is 4,000 homes which will either be demolished or rendered unliveable so that people will want to move. That is nearly 8-10,000 of my constituents. This will be the largest forced removal of a community in our peacetime history. Where will they go?
In May of this year the housing waiting list for Hillingdon Council was 12,000. The council is housing only about 700 families a year. The private market in our area has a limited supply in future years, which was revealed by the site survey by the council in its consultation on our local plan. Like-for-like properties – in other words, in the Heathrow villages, houses with gardens – are almost impossible to find within the local area. Where will they go? Where will they be accommodated? To be frank, to come up with a proposal without identifying the solution is just not acceptable.
Our communities are living, breathing, thriving communities. They comprise all the elements of a living community; schools and nurseries. As a result of these proposals, Harmondsworth Primary School and the Harmondsworth and Longford nurseries will be demolished. Heathrow Primary School, to be frank, will also be rendered unteachable. We will lose two primary schools, and possibly three. Where will our children go? We have just gone through an expansion of our education system in the south of the borough. We are desperately seeking places. We have expanded virtually every local school. The council, despite bitter opposition from the local community, has been forced to build on green belt for the first time in its history to accommodate a new school. Where will we go? Where will our children be taught in the future? Where will the replacement schools and the replacement nurseries be located? There has been no showing of the sites that are available, because there are none.
The Commission identifies some of the land that will be taken to accommodate a new runway including our local parks and our green belt. It includes Sipson recreation ground, our community centre and parts of Colne Valley Regional Park. It has been blithely promised in the community impact assessment these will be relocated. I just ask the simple question: where? Land is in desperate short supply in this part of the area. It is designated for housing, largely. Where are the sites available for relocation of our open spaces and our country park areas? Are brownfield sites to be converted? Where are these sites? I have scoured the maps. We have looked at the maps for alternatives and it is impossible to find. We have already our open space or green belt and I cannot see this being expanded under these proposals, because there are no options that have been brought forward.
The issue that has been brought forward for the first time by the Commission – and I congratulate it for it – is the examination of community cohesion. It is the first time in any assessment of airport expansion it has been looked at. We have a sense of community – a sense of place – grown over generations in our villages and settlements, which have existed not just for centuries but, in the case of Harmondsworth, for 1,000 years. Families have lived together for generations. This is a traditional Middlesex village. So is Harlington. So is Longford. So is Sipson. They still exist: the church; the school; the green; the pub; the village hall. Names of families enjoined together on its war memorial. These are all irreplaceable.
In the Commission’s document on community impact it says: ‘At the very local level, it is difficult to see any existing community cohesion being maintained unless entire communities and their facilities were moved en masse at the same time’. That is impossible, and this document accepts that. Where is the land for that? Where is it possible to actually overcome the destruction of a community like that? Is it not just dishonest to even hold out that prospect?
To be frank, we already live in an area where air pollution is at the edge of or exceeding European limits. How can it be that an increase in the aircraft movements and the expansion of passenger numbers, vehicle movements and freight movements cannot make air pollution worse? It is just not credible to argue so. There is a proposal that there will be mitigation measures. Why are those mitigation measures not in place now when in our area we lose 80-100 people who die each year as a result of air pollution and 3,000 across London? How can anyone tolerate a worsening of this situation?
Noise similarly. What assurances can be given to local residents currently affected, but especially those not affected currently by noise, when flight paths are so uncertain and not definitive at present? What happens in the future, on both air pollution and noise, if the assurances given today are not adhered to? On air pollution, does Heathrow Airport suddenly close for a few days until the air improves? Does Heathrow Airport stop flying because they have gone beyond the noise limits? Of course not. We will be trapped in an environment which is polluted and noisy, with no recourse to action.
My constituents have expressed to me that the assessment of the health implications of airport expansion has been extremely limited. What in-depth studies are to be commissioned to establish the health implications of expansion? Is there to be, as we asked for, an independent, open public inquiry into the health implications of expanding Heathrow? The consequences for residents living near the airport and people working at the airport are absolutely critical in health terms.
The Commission has looked at the whole range of factors on deliverability – the issues around air pollution, environment, economic impact, etc. – but I think there are other factors as well. One of them is political deliverability.
To be credible in its recommendations the Commission must also take into account the political realities of the situation. There is no point in the Commission opting for a solution that is just politically undeliverable. Expansion at Heathrow is politically undeliverable.
First, I do not believe that taking into account the party politics in the west of London any political party is going to risk the loss of the wide range of marginal seats that there is in the area. There has not been a candidate elected in a marginal seat in West London proposing expansion of Heathrow Airport; in fact, all of them have stood on tickets of opposition to expansion. That includes local council candidates as well.
Second, although climate change may not be a critical issue at the moment because of the economic recession, it will grow again. I believe that climate change and the impact on climate change of Heathrow Airport will be one of those factors that will be taken into account more readily in these coming months as we move towards a general election and then beyond.
Third I urge the Commission not to underestimate the depth of anger that there is in my community. Do not underestimate the depth of anger that there will be if there are proposals to expand Heathrow Airport. We have been lied to by Heathrow Airport over the years, but I have to also say politicians have not been honest with us either. Before the last election, there was no caveat that the commitment of ‘no ifs, no buts’ was only for the life of a Parliament. Last time we had Heathrow threaten expansion, Climate Camp turned up and there was a direct action campaign. If there are proposals to go ahead with Heathrow Airport, Heathrow will be the iconic battleground not just for our local communities to fight for their villages but for the community across London, this country and maybe Europe to campaign against climate change. I do not believe this is deliverable. In fact, our community will make sure it is not deliverable. If that comes by political action or direct action, be assured we will be there.