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Surrey Liberal Democrats' Heathrow Airspace and Future Operations Consultation Response

February 27, 2019 1:04 PM


Surrey Liberal Democrats remain opposed to the third runway at Heathrow, and whilst we appreciate this consultation is about changing the airspace, it is clear that not all of the proposals being consulted on are intended for the existence of only two runways. Therefore, we feel it poignant to reiterate our opposition to the expansion of Heathrow at this point, before establishing our position on the specific consultation issues. The need for further airport expansion is clear from increased efforts to open up global mobility, however, we feel expansion would be better utilised somewhere other than the South East of England which is already plagued by numerous airports. The South East of England will not be able to cope with the expansion of Heathrow as there is a serious lack of infrastructure to cope with all the consequences a bigger airport will cause. The investment into expansion and thus infrastructure would be better spent elsewhere in the country, and could be used to spread the economic opportunity to the North of England, where it is so desperately needed.

However, on the basis that the third runway is to go ahead, following the Cabinet vote in favour, in June 2018, we feel it is best to provide a constructive response to the current consultation in order to reduce the impact felt by airspace changes, and a third runway, on our residents.

Whilst we welcome the move towards performance based navigation (PBN) systems for the fact that it will provide more accuracy when determining flight paths and should ultimately reduce delays, we remain apprehensive too. One of the main concerns with using PBN systems at Heathrow, among other UK airports, is that it will lead to more concentrated aircraft noise; although the idea is that it would affect fewer people, it is unfair to expect those directly under the flight paths to face the burden. Hence why we favour any options which provide optimum respite for the residents of Surrey. Flight paths should be alternated as much as possible in order to provide respite for more people and share the burden of the noise across a number of households.

The consultation documents detail that with the inclusion of the third runway there are four possible runway operating patterns which will be alternated in order to provide respite equally to as many people as possible. However, this raises a question in the practical sense: what level of disruption is caused by alternating runway operations, is there a period of time, when the changes are being made, that no flights will take-off or land? Because if this is the case then surely the airport would rather operate a programme which changes operating patterns fewer times, but if there is no disruption caused then it is likely that the best decision would be to alternate runways more frequently to break up the noise disruption in affected areas.

Another concern in the anticipation of the future of Heathrow is that it will adversely affect the property market in the area. Many people have chosen to live in Surrey because of the rural and quiet setting, under the impression that they would not be adversely affected by flight paths. However, with the introduction of new flight paths there is a concern that properties which will subsequently be under a new flight path will lose some of their value due to the disturbances caused by the aircraft noise. This has prompted multiple questions: a) will compensation be provided to newly affected households? b) what is the protocol regarding noise insulation for newly affected households in order to limit the adverse effects felt as a result of the new flight paths?

The consultation documents detail that one of the ways in which Heathrow is trying to reduce the impact of aircraft noise is through incentivising airlines to invest in the most modern, and thus quieter aircraft. What is the likelihood of uptake on this by airlines; what is the reality of impact this will make; and what are the timescales?

In respect of night flights, it seems logical to favour an outcome which affects the least amount of people i.e. the option of having a runway time of 5:15am as opposed to the option of having a runway time of 5:30. Due to the nature of the flights it will mean that less people are affected on any given day, and are given 2 days respite.

Thus, bearing in mind the reservations and questions expressed above, we feel that the best approach to take when considering the airspace changes at Heathrow Airport is one that has more options of flight paths and rotating them. This approach will be fairer and more equitable to all residents in the area. Whilst it is not ideal that more people are likely to be affected by the airspace changes, if more people hope to reap the benefits of the airport expanding then people must be open to taking their fair share of the burden.