Airport expansion and its effects on the social fabric

Published: 2019/12/05 Number of words: 5529

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Airport Expansion and Its Effects on the Social Fabric
There is a wide range of literature relevant to the expansion of airports. Governments favour expanding airports; they motivation is that airports are an important economic tool for connecting the country to other parts of the world. The British government and BAA were the first to publish documents relating to ‘adding capacity at Heathrow’ (DFT, 2007) with the BBC and other media publications providing more of a non-biased approach when tackling issues that would be caused by the expansion. This chapter reviews literature focused on the aviation industry and includes topics to do with the expansion of Heathrow airport and residents’ perceptions of the new runway. The topic of managing airports will focus on (1) the impact of global noise and air quality and (2) local communities and aviation, the economics of the Heathrow expansion and, finally, airport policy. Examining the research on this topic enables a foundation for the proposed research.

Expansion of Heathrow.
The debate around the expansion of Heathrow has been mostly centred around environmental concerns; in The Guardian newspaper, Mulholland (2008) indicated that the London mayor and local authorities believed the expansion would breach EU laws on pollution. Also, that the transport secretary is expected to give the green light to the new runway which would see it in place by 2030 and make possible almost double the number of annual flights. The decision by the then transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, sparked outrage and controversy and could ultimately alter London’s voting, swinging support away from Labour to a Conservative government at the next general election. The shadow transport secretary, Theresa Villiers, instead ‘wants to link Heathrow up to a high-speed rail network, leading to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester’ (Mulholland, 2008). In The Telegraph newspaper, Porter (2009) explained that Gordon Brown faces Cabinet opposition over the building of the new runway but, crucially, the prime minister is ‘backed by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, who has made it known he strongly sides with business on the issue’ (Porter, 2009).

However, the UK has to conform to EU policy on aviation emissions and, as it currently stands, nitrous oxide gases are at the upper limit. An article written by Harrabin (2009) asks whether a bigger Heathrow could be green. He suggests that the decision to expand Heathrow provoked fury from many opposition parties and that the public does not believe that the CO2 restrictions will be upheld as Heathrow is already in breach of EU rules on air quality. He argues further saying that the Commission of Sustainable Development advises against the expansion as it is ‘highly irresponsible’ (Harrabin, 2009) and a rail link should be a strong alternative to Heathrow. No money has been allocated to this.

This case was echoed by a BBC (2009) programme which indicated that the government understands that NO2 levels at Heathrow are higher than the EU limit but says it ‘is likely to ask for an extension to 2015’ (BBC, 2009). The government believes it will solve the problem by only allowing cleaner, more fuel-efficient aircraft to use the runway, but it goes on to argue that if it were not built ‘there would be no cut in emissions and flights would simply move to other European airports’ (BBC, 2009). However in the same article, it suggests that, with a third runway and a UK cut in emissions, ‘Heathrow’s contribution to overall UK emissions would rise significantly by 2050, some calculate to as much as 50%’ (BBC, 2009). As nitrous oxide restrictions are set to be put into place by 2010, extra flights would only make the situation worse. To expand the argument further, celebrities such as Alistair McGowan and Emma Thompson have joined environmental pressure groups by acquiring pieces of land on the proposed site of the runway. They have said that ‘it’s the most egregious piece of hypocrisy I’ve [sic] seen in a long time’ (BBC, 2009).

Residents’ Perception of the Runway.
The residents’ perceptions are arguably one of the most important factors that the government and BAA needs to consider. The entire village of Sipson could disappear by 2020 and Ryan (2006) argues that at least 700 homes could be demolished while some 1,700 people would have to be evicted. But there is talk of residents ‘joining forces with direct- action groups to fight plans for a new runway at Heathrow’ (Ryan, 2006) and they have said they would even lie down on the runway to stop it operating. Many residents have lived in Sipson most of their lives and fear the vibrant community will be obliterated by the building of the new runway. It would be affected by the noise and air pollution that would accompany it. Ryan (2006) then interviews Lord Soley of ‘Future Heathrow’ who feels that if Britain’s biggest airport is not expanded it will lose out to its EU counterparts such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris. There would be serious long-term consequences if it is not developed. He also used the example of the docklands which thrived in the 1960s, yet had closed down by the 1980s.

The Department of Transport published a paper in 2007 which gave those that would be affected by the new runway a chance to talk to ministers and government officials. With regard to the issue of planning, many questions were put to the ministers about ‘What will happen to the people of the villages?’ and ‘Have effects on schools been taken into consideration?’ (DFT, 2007). The DFT (2007) emphasises that those in close proximity to the runway are at risk of noise pollution but it has asked BAA to review its insulation schemes with these villages in mind. It also recognises the impact on local schools, especially in terms of noise, and the DFT has asked BAA to extend insulation schemes accordingly. When residents asked the DFT officials about noise pollution, the officials assured them that only the cleanest, quietest aircraft would be allowed on Heathrow’s new runway and flights would be restricted for an eight-hour index at night from 23h00 – 07h00. These measures would be coupled with an end to the Cranford agreement which would see noise more evenly distributed around the airport. The final issues discussed were in relation to employment prospects and environmental concerns. The DFT believes that failure to plan for a new runway would be damaging for the country’s economy but it would create upwards of 100,000 jobs. The residents and many pressure groups believe the new runway is environmentally short-sighted but the DFT believes the contrary. It maintains that the UK has one of the toughest climate-change regimes and it strikes ‘a balance between the social and economic benefits of additional capacity at Heathrow and the environmental impacts’ (DFT, 2007). However, Benedict Southworth, who is the director of the World Development Movement, agrees with the residents. He spoke in January 2009 about the expansion of Heathrow, saying that ‘the number of flights leaving Heathrow will nearly double as a result of this expansion. In fact, the flights from the new runway will emit the same annual amount of carbon dioxide as Kenya’ (Southworth, 2009).

Managing Airports – Noise- and Air Quality Impacts.
Airports need to ensure that residents in surrounding communities are constantly informed about any changes likely to occur in relation to planning enquiries. Hume et al. (2003) use the example of Manchester airport; a committee of 32 members has been set up which is the interface between the airport and neighbouring communities. One way of discovering how airports affect the lives of the local residents is by seeking their views. In this case, ten communities were surveyed within flight-path boundaries and the published results formed the basis for ‘the development of an improved environmental control programme’ (Hume et al., 2003). Manchester airport has operated noise-restriction programmes for the past 20 years but when residents were surveyed, they still felt that noise pollution was the biggest concern. The expansion of Heathrow can be compared to Manchester; residents are concerned about similar levels of noise pollution but the most disastrous threat they face is that of community destruction.

The reason why noise pollution was such a problem at Manchester was because there were no permits for night flights. Heathrow, if expanded would have no such problem; the DFT (2007) outlines that although flights would be operational for 16 hours of the day, there will be night-flight permits between 23h00 and 07h00, hence reducing the noise-pollution risk.
Thomas and Lever (2003) maintain that as many as ‘one in three Europeans complain about noise from transport and industrial sources and a particular concern is related to noise at night’ (Thomas and Lever 2003: 106) and this prompted the European Commission (EC) to propose a framework to support airports in developing noise action plans. They intend to:

  • Enable noise sensitive airports to apply to take action to exclude the noisiest aircraft.
  • Establish a framework within which European airports can implement noise-related charging regimes designed to encourage quieter air traffic.
  • Establish a European framework within which restrictions would be applied to different aircraft.

(Thomas and Lever 2003: 106).
Thomas and Lever (2003) also discussed how aircraft noise could be controlled. They argued that technological improvements had dramatically reduced the noise generated by modern aircraft but further development would be seriously costly. Even when new technologies are developed, it takes many years for them to be certified and even then, airlines are unwilling to invest in new models simply for environmental reasons. At airports, the construction of noise mounds or walls can prevent noise exposure and, in some extreme cases, entirely new airports have been constructed in remote off-shore locations to address the noise problem. Charges based on noise emissions encourage quieter aircraft and also noise penalties imposed on aircraft ‘puts pressure on pilots to adopt the quietest operating procedures’ (Thomas and Lever 2003: 101). Operating restrictions have been introduced at Heathrow and these relate to night flying where a limit is imposed upon the numbers and types of aircraft flying during night hours.

Noise pollution is not the only problem Heathrow residents face; there are other factors that have been cited as being hazardous to human health. Hume and Watson (2003) explain that the main pollutants that arise are nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and ‘organic atmospheric compounds which include benzene, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, kerosene, diesel fuel and ethylene glycol’ (Hume and Watson 2003: 66). These pollutants are similar to those found in urban areas. Health examinations of local populations exposed to aircraft emissions should be compared to those who have not been exposed to see whether there is a significant difference between the two.

Graham (2003) believes that, with the development of quieter aircraft, most airports have contained the problem of aircraft noise; however the consumption of fuel is set to reach 300 million tonnes in 2015. An increased consumption means ‘increases in carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons’ (Graham 2003: 212) and it is these gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. The BBC supports this argument, which suggests that if Heathrow is expanded, it could contribute to half of the UK’s CO2 emissions. With a growth in future air traffic, this will outperform the impact of technology which is aimed at reducing emissions. However, it is predicted that aircraft now are 20% more fuel efficient than they were 20 years ago. Other options are available which involve kerosene tax. Presently, kerosene fuel is exempt from tax ‘on international flights under the 1944 Chicago Convention’ (Graham 2003: 212) but since the 1990s, the European Commission ‘has expressed a significant interest in the introduction of an EU-wide fuel tax’ (Graham 2003: 212). It estimates that, with the introduction of this tax, there could be a saving of 2.5% on fuel consumption but the effectiveness of taxing all airline carriers would be hard to implement ‘as it would involve complicated reworking of bilateral agreements’ (Graham 2003: 212).

Pastowski (2003) explains that tackling emissions from aviation could be very tricky ‘owing to a lack of well-established and agreed scientific bases and the diversity of interests involved’ (Pastowski 2003: 180). In principle, technology might be used for neutralising greenhouse gas emissions from aviation but this requires an alternative to kerosene. So far, hydrogen-fuelled aircraft have been considered as an alternative to kerosene; however water vapour would be emitted which would result in contrails and cirrus clouds.

Local Communities and Aviation.
In the government’s White Paper, ‘The Future of Air Transport,’ which was released in 2003, chapter 12 focuses on the problem of blight within communities who are in touching distance of airports. It does stress that ‘certain groups of people will continue to be affected by the prospect of future airport development, whether short- or long term’ (DFT 2003: 144). The Land Compensation Act, 1973 part 1, states that if land is depreciated by physical factors such as noise, vibration, smell and fumes caused by the use of public works, then the person is entitled to compensation. The section of ‘Blight in the Future of Air Transport’ has to take this into account. The law currently ‘provides compensation in respect of loss of value arising from certain indirect effects of future airport development during construction such as noise or dust’ (DFT 2003: 144). Airport development will have an impact on property values, as is the case at Heathrow; it is often ‘referred to as generalised blight. We accept people should have access to some form of redress, for example to help them relocate’ (DFT 2003: 144). This is exactly the route that BAA has taken. Although no formal application for a new runway has been made, it has already offered to purchase properties in the surrounding villages. The Property Market Support Bond (PMSB) is a step towards reducing uncertainty faced by residents wishing to sell their property. They calculate prices which are linked to 2002 prices, obtain two separate valuations from two different estate agents (one by BAA and one from the resident) and then take an average. The main problem for communities around airports is noise pollution and thus ‘the Europe-wide regulation of noise seems set to remain high on the agenda of policy makers’ (Upham et al., 2003: 107) but current policies have had little effect on reducing noise pollution. While on the one hand, aviation does bring economic benefits, on the other hand ‘the negative social and environmental impacts of airport expansion are borne exclusively by local communities and have led to increasing levels of opposition to airport expansion plans’ (Upham et al., 2003: 107). The Terminal 5 inquiry at Heathrow a few years ago did highlight public discontent at the negative ‘social and environmental externalities that have become a feature of life for communities residing close to major airports’ (Upham et al., 2003: 107). Difficulty with expanding airports includes community displacement; the development at Heathrow could lead to a whole village being destroyed and countless others being affected by noise. The noise could have an effect on local schools and those very close to the airport site ‘could be replaced in a quieter area, and the cost of the new development, less the value of the vacated land, would be assessed’ (Stratford 1974: 61). Alternatively, if they are in a moderately noisy area they could be ‘soundproofed so that a maximum internal noise level, with windows closed, of about 60PNdB could be maintained’ (Stratford 1974: 61). Over the past thirty years, independent organisations have grown and proved a thorn in the side of governmental bodies. These groups ‘with all kinds of names and objectives have been formidable protagonists, employing legal counsel and technical experts in the public inquiries’ (Stratford 1974: 6). A selection of pressure groups will be discussed in this report. They give the community a voice and have the opportunity to demonstrate against the activities of big multinational firms.

The Economics of the Heathrow Expansion.
A CE Delft report commissioned by HACAN Clear Skies reveals Heathrow’s true economic contribution to the UK economy. The common perception is that Heathrow would lose out to its European counterparts if not expanded. However, ‘London’s airports handle 128 million passengers a year – that is more use than the airports serving Paris and Frankfurt combined’ (Stop Heathrow Expansion, 2007) and the competition is ‘not limited to the four major European hubs, but extends to minor European hubs and hubs on other continents’ (CE Delft 2008: 90). This means that Heathrow is in competition with every single other global airport and it is not these hub airports that are in competition for passengers; rather it is the ‘airlines themselves’ (CE Delft 2008: 90). As 35% of passengers who arrive at Heathrow are transfer passengers, they ‘never leave the airport and contribute little to the UK economy outside of the aviation industry’ (Stop Heathrow Expansion, 2007). Approximately 20% of all flights are within close European boundaries and there are plans for a viable high-speed rail network which would reduce the demand for a third runway. In an article for The Guardian newspaper, Milmo (2009) maintains that the government has been accused of ‘using fantasy economics to justify the expansion of Heathrow airport’ (Milmo, 2009). Critics have argued that the ‘economic case for expanding Britain’s largest airport underestimates the environmental cost of adding a maximum of 220,000 flights a year at the west London site’ (Milmo, 2009). The challenge to BAA’s economic argument has meant that the new runway is no longer seen as being a credible option.

Aviation Policy.
In section 3.1 of the ‘Airports Policy 1986’ the UK’s airports policy should be directed towards the following objectives:

  • To foster a strong and competitive British airline industry by providing enough airport capacity where it is needed.
  • To minimise the impact of airports on the environment generally and to ensure that land use planning and conversation policies fully take into account both the development arising from airports and the environmental consequences.
  • Make the best use of existing facilities and provide new capacity only when this is economically justified.
  • Encourage the use and development of regional airports so that they meet the maximum demand they can attract.
  • Support the leading position of Heathrow and Gatwick among the world’s major international airports and interlining centres.

SOURCE: Office of Public Sector Information, 1986

Section 3.2 states that air-transport facilities should not in general be subsidised by the taxpayer or the ratepayer. Section 4.17 explains that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) expects busy-hour arrival capacity at Heathrow to fall from 34 movements to 32, as the proportion of heavy traffic rises from 30% to 50% and section 4.18 assesses projections of annual runway capacity at London airports. Projections by the CAA did show that in 1984, airport capacity was fully subscribed for five hours a day for the majority of the seven-month summer season. Table 2.2 shows runway capacity at both major London airports.

Table 2.2 – Runway Capacity at both Major London Airports.(SOURCE: CAA, 2001)




The CAA estimated that the impact of increasing the proportion of heavy aircraft is clearly visible in the falling annual totals.
In section 5.8, the government stated, after Terminal 4 was built in 1984, that it did not intend to provide a fifth terminal at the airport. This ruling has clearly been overruled. Its conclusion was based on the noise climate and disturbance to people living around Heathrow.

In section 5.10, the justification for a fifth terminal at Heathrow assumes that the number of passengers will continue to increase with no substantial increase in the number of aircraft movements. It is clear that Heathrow’s capacity to handle aircraft movements is expected to fall in the future as the proportion of larger aircraft using the airport increases. The scope for making more efficient use of the runways by spreading traffic to off-peak hours is limited.

Section 5.11 discusses the government’s decision in 1979 to set a limit on air transport movements (ATMs) to 275,000, the purpose being to provide an assurance to residents in the Heathrow area that aircraft noise would be kept under control by establishing a ceiling on the number of flights.

In section 5.18, the government accepts that Heathrow residents experience more severe noise problems than residents near any other airport in the UK. It is doing everything practicable to ensure that the noise climate improves and will continue to support the necessary operational measures.

The literature encompasses the wider debate on the effects of airport expansion and, while these remain important, this study will explore the social sustainability issues surrounding the possible expansion of Heathrow airport. The next section investigates a number of possible methods which could be used for this research.

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