The Telegraph is getting worked up about the vetoing of Heathrow expansion by the Court of Appeal. Why, they wonder, should a small number of climate activists get in the way of our national economic needs – in other words, the needs of globetrotting business executives and tourists? But it’s not only climate activists, along with anyone who attributes global warming to human causes, like aircraft, who will be pleased. The Court decision is great news today for the million people whose daily lives are blighted by Heathrow Airport.
Though I have since moved away, I was brought up close to the flight paths. I didn’t mind the deafening roar of Concorde at midday because it was beautiful to look at, and a great technical achievement. One grows accustomed to the noise, though I have memories of everyone fleeing the garden on summers’ afternoons. Conversation was impossible. But when I returned to the area as a young house hunter, I visited two properties – one in Feltham and one in Isleworth – that were directly under the flight paths. They had plenty of charm, that is, for the few minutes until the first plane came over. The noise was appalling. Then I researched the pollution, the ‘circle of poison’ that surrounds airports for miles around, much of it generated by aircraft manoeuvring on the ground. It made grim reading. No place to raise a family, that was for sure.
There are arguments for and against. But my understanding is that much of the Heathrow traffic could be relocated to Gatwick and Stansted, which lie in relatively sparsely populated areas, and which could be provided with fast links to Central London. Alternatively, tax aviation fuel and make air travellers pay the full economic and environmental cost of their journeys. That should cut passenger traffic by ninety per cent.
If this country were China, the third runway, and a fourth, and a fifth, could easily be built at Heathrow. The M25 could be widened to twelve lanes. Neighbouring villages for miles around could be bulldozed. Noise, pollution and congestion would be intolerable, but it would not matter. All could be sacrificed in the collective interest.
However, this is England, where people and communities, where tithe barns, old pubs, ancient manor houses and medieval churches (Harlington, Bedfont, Harmondsworth), matter – or should matter – as much as establishment and business interests. Boris or no Boris, our church organist is planning to lie under the bulldozers. I shall be honoured to join her.