Barely three years after plans for a third runway were scrapped, Heathrow has returned to the front of the queue with bolder expansion plans
The people of Stanwell, bordering Heathrow airport to the south, have a proud record of rooting out the untrustworthy. Beryl Wilkins, a local historian, lives a stone’s throw from a former school built in 1624 as a bequest from the lord of the manor, Lord Knyvett – the man, she says, who felt the collar of one Guy Fawkes.
Some undistinguished moments in Heathrow’s own history she witnessed first hand: “I sat in the room for the Terminal 4 inquiry – not even Terminal 5 – and the planning inspector said, ‘ladies and gentlemen, I can promise you this is the very last one’. You can’t believe them when they say this is the end.”
Barely three years after plans for a third runway were scrapped by the incoming government and abandoned by Heathrow, the airport has restated its case and returned with even bolder expansion plans.
Locals fear that next week’s interim report from the Airports Commission will set the gears in motion towards the next runway. In his one major statement, commission chairman Sir Howard Davies said he believed additional airport capacity was needed in the southeast, and promised to narrow down the candidates for new runways to a workable shortlist, to avert blight and allow the ultimate political decision to be taken as soon as the timetable demanded.
According to a single well-placed source, the draft shortlist contained three options, with plans submitted by London mayor Boris Johnson for a brand new hub airport in the Thames Estuary eliminated on cost grounds, leaving a choice of a three-runway Heathrow, a four-runway Heathrow, or expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick – a narrowing of focus that the source claimed alarmed David Cameron and George Osborne, who set up the commission to delay engaging with a toxic political question until after the election.
Even should the estuary plan, or Johnson’s alternative of a vastly enlarged Stansted, remain as an option after Davies publishes on Tuesday, many will now suspect the favoured option is an ever-expanding Heathrow.
Little wonder that neighbours like Wilkins can claim Heathrow, unchecked, would “swallow up the borough”. She won’t reveal her age, but says: “We used to go to the farm there to get milk in the morning, in Heathrow village. It was lovely.” Stanwell, which claims a mention in the Domesday Book, sits on the southern perimeter. But when Heathrow published a new potential runway location in June, Stanwell was suddenly on the map as a small residential peninsula with airport on three sides, and directly under the flight path.
The runway obliterates a reservoir and the neighbouring village of Stanwell Moor and “points like a dagger” at the village’s historic heart, in the words of Robert Evans, the county councillor representing both communities. Although Stanwell Moor is threatened with total destruction, the people in its 850 homes will be compensated and can move away – regarded by some, at least, as better than being trapped in unsellable houses. Evans says: “I liken it to a funeral – it’s not so much the people who die as the ones who are left behind.”
There are similar sentiments in Sipson, the focus of campaigners’ resistance last time round, and now menaced by two of the three potential Heathrow runways. A northeast option would, again, mean demolition – but the worst option, residents say, would be the third: to spare it, demolish neighbouring Harmondsworth and leave Sipson bang at the end of a runway.
Jackie Clark-Basten, proprietor of Hair by Jackie in the centre of Sipson, says the new proposal was “worse than last time”. She said: “They’ve decimated this village. Now they want to put it somewhere else and let us suffer the consequences.”
Hundreds of homeowners and long-term residents left as Heathrow bought up their houses. Jackie’s husband Danny also used to work in the business, until the exodus from Sipson saw trade plummet. “As a men’s barber, it’s worse,” he says.
The couple chose to diversify, with Danny seeking work elsewhere – inevitably, perhaps, finding a job at the airport, as a team leader in British Airways’ cargo division. He talks passionately about the benefits and opportunities of the expanding business, a staging post in flying pharmaceuticals between the US and India. So does he support a third runway, with all it has meant for Sipson? He hesitates, catches his wife’s eye. “I’m not from the village.”
In the hairdresser’s chair, customer Doris Booty, a lifelong resident says: “It’s terrible what they’ve done: when you walk through the village, the windows, the gardens…” She herself considered selling up but didn’t go through with it: neighbours left, and Sipson’s is effectively a transient population.
Some recent arrivals are doing their best to counter that. Ian West, a veteran of Climate Camps, has been living at Grow Heathrow since 2010, a sustainable living project set up on derelict land in the heart of Sipson after the last runway battle. “Although they had won, people here were feeling exhausted. Sipson was left in limbo.” The schemes – from bike workshops, re-use schemes, events – have demonstrated a long-term commitment, he says. When it comes to fighting new runway plans, he says: “The approach is that we are taking action – we are taking action all the time.”
The runners and riders for the shortlist
Europe’s busiest airport argues that only a large hub – one with sufficient numbers of connecting flights and passengers – can sustain the international connections business needs. It operates at full capacity, making it susceptible to snow or other disruption. Has submitted plans for three possible new runways.
Wants a second runway, and argues that would create genuine competition to benefit passengers. Rejects the hub argument. Affects far fewer people with noise and pollution – and might present an easier compromise solution politically.
A new Thames Estuary airport
Boris Johnson’s vision is persuasive on noise abatement and in aviation terms but would require a massive redevelopment of transport links, housing and other infrastructure that makes it a rank outsider
Johnson’s second best hope for a four-runway hub. Potential room to expand but is only half full and there is little appetite from airlines even now.
And the rest…
Among the 50-plus submissions Davies has received, a four-runway Luton, a Severn Estuary hub, a drive-through airport and an orbital high-speed train linking all of London’s airports are expected to be ruled out.
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