While I don’t claim to be an expert in the history of aviation a couple of key dates are lodged in my memory.
On the 17 December 1903, Orville Wright did something no human had ever done before by taking to the air in a powered airplane. He flew the prestigious distance of 120 feet at 6.8 miles an hour. There was to be no going back. Wilbur was next up and distances increased and things were never to be the same again.
What I find mildly astonishing is just how quickly aviation technology progressed from that historic day in North Carolina. To think that about 30 years later Frank Whittle had invented the jet engine and, by 1947, Chuck Yeager was flying a supersonic jet almost beggars belief.
But not everything connected with aviation progresses so swiftly, well certainly not the seemingly never ending debate about expanding airport capacity, especially at Heathrow. In the 1960s the Wilson government set up a commission to look at the pros and cons of a third London airport and recommended a site in Buckinghamshire. In the early 1970s the Heath government rejected this proposal.
In 1978 Mr Callaghan had a go and a White Paper said Heathrow capacity was ‘restricted’. Mrs Thatcher then entered Number 10 and her government wanted to develop regional airports and expand Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted as the traffic developed. By 1990 the government wanted to expand Heathrow and BA wanted an extra runway. Come 1995 and the government was rejecting new runways at Gatwick and Heathrow.
I could go on into the Blair and Cameron years but I won’t, as you will have got the picture by now. Aircraft technology went from flights of under seven miles an hour to supersonic in 44 years while political decisions as to whether or not to increase capacity at Heathrow have rumbled along the runway for more than 50 years.
Readers who have followed the recent twists and turns of the Heathrow saga will know the Government believes a new runway will strengthen the UK’s links with the rest of the world, offering new and improved opportunities for tourism and trade.
As a Council we’ve opposed a third runway primarily for the impact we believe it will have on noise, air quality and road traffic. The Government is promising to address the environmental impacts with a package of measures it describes as “world class”. It believes expansion can be delivered within existing air quality requirements though this would, in any case, be a condition of planning approval. The Government has recently begun a four-month consultation on plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Formally speaking, the consultation is on a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) on expanding runway capacity and airport infrastructure in the south-east of England.
The draft NPS sets out:
- the need for additional airport capacity in the south-east of England
- why Government believes that need is best met by a north-west runway at Heathrow Airport
- the specific requirements that the new runway will need to meet to gain development consent on issues such as pollution, climate change, habitats, health, good design and cost.
There will be a number of consultation events across London, including one at Kensington Town Hall on Wednesday 1 March. This drop-in event is open to all. It begins at 11am and finishes at 8pm. It is also possible to participate online. All the background documents and consultation response forms are available at:
The consultation ends at 11.45pm on Thursday 25 May 2017.
To address the worries about noise, climate change and air quality, the Government is proposing a range of counter measures that includes legally binding noise targets, a ban of six and a half hours on scheduled night flights and new technology to make airspace more efficient and reduce the need for stacking, thereby making journeys faster and more environmentally friendly. However, the Council remains very concerned about the environmental impact of a third runway and will be studying the measures outlined very closely before responding.
This is an important chance for residents to make their views on airport expansion known, so please come to the event on 1 March.