Londoners say environment is key to airport expansion debate, as new report highlights Heathrow’s noise impact

04 November 2014

As the Airports Commission prepares to launch its public consultation on airport expansion, a new YouGov poll has revealed that a majority of Londoners say the impact on the local environment is as important as the economic benefits a new runway would bring.

More than half of Londoners (55%) polled said that aircraft noise and fumes are among the most important factors to consider when choosing which airport to expand, equivalent to the number (56%) who said economic benefits were important.

The results highlight the careful balance between economic benefit and environmental impact that any decision over airport expansion must strike.

An expanded Gatwick would generate £90 billion of economic benefit at an environmental cost that can be afforded, because:

  • Gatwick has never breached UK or EU air quality guidelines because it is located in a largely rural, sparsely populated area, and also has one of the cleanest aircraft fleets in Europe. This means Gatwick would still operate within legal air quality limits with a second runway
  • The number of people most impacted by noise at Gatwick with a second runway would be just 5 per cent (37,000) of the people affected at Heathrow today (725,000) – an airport that impacts more people than all major European airports combined

The results come as Gatwick publishes a new report on the noise impacts a third runway at Heathrow would have on schools, hospitals and places of worship across London and the South East. Gatwick commissioned the report to assess the noise impact of Heathrow’s third runway plans compared to Gatwick’s own proposal for a second runway.

The report outlines that:

  • By 2040, a total of 819 schools, hospitals and places of worship would be adversely affected by noise if Heathrow were to expand – nearly double the 421 affected today
  • Noise from Heathrow already affects 261 schools – a Heathrow third runway would nearly double the number affected to 487 schools by 2040
  • Gatwick’s separate analysis submitted to the Airports Commission has already concluded that if a second runway were built at Gatwick, noise would affect 33 schools in the local area by 2040 - ten times fewer than Heathrow’s expansion plans

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO, said:

“Our expansion plans strike the right balance between delivering the extra airport capacity the UK needs, while taking the right steps to protect the environment.

“We have always recognised that expansion should not come at an unacceptable cost to the environment. We have an industry-leading environmental record and, unlike Heathrow, have met air quality standards for more than a decade.

“We would still operate within these standards with a second runway and we would also pay £1,000 annually to residents most affected by noise, something Heathrow cannot begin to do because so many people live under its flight path.

“An expanded Gatwick would deliver more competition, more flights and lower fares at an environmental cost the UK can afford.”

The YouGov poll also shows that nearly half of Londoners (46%) continue to think Gatwick should be expanded when given a straight choice between airports, compared to 37% who selected Heathrow.

More than half of Londoners (53%) also said that disruption to the M25 was an important issue to them – the motorway would be tunnelled under if Heathrow built a new runway.

Similarly, more than half (52%) said that congestion charging airport was an important issue.

If it built a new runway, it is predicted that Heathrow could only begin to meet air quality standards if there was no more airport-related road traffic than there is today. This is why Heathrow has been forced into proposing a pollution-limiting congestion charge which could see people paying £40 just to drop friends and family off at the airport.

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