Zac Goldsmith gives evidence to Airports Commission

Today Zac Goldsmith gave evidence to the Airports Commission at Heathrow, here is a transcript of his speech which brilliantly sums why he thinks why expansion at Heathrow will be a disaster.

It’s a bit of a read but well worth it!

“I want to briefly comment on the campaign that Heathrow has waged: You have paid fortunes to Back Heathrow –a bogus community group – even though you have publicly stated that you disagree with its message; expand or wither away.

Essentially you have been funding the dissemination of material you know to be misleading.
Worse, this campaign, which you fund, has targeted elected representatives like the leader of Hillingdon Council in the run up to the local elections. You are vast, foreign-owned corporation, and you have sought to pervert the democratic outcome.

I’d like to hear you publicly defend that, and to know how much you have spent on your PR blitz.
For the record, I understand why Heathrow is waging this campaign – you want the public to fork out vast subsidies to facilitate a near-monopoly, which you will own. But I dread to think what strings you are pulling behind the scenes, with your privileged access to the corridors of power.

For my part, I do not advocate closure of Heathrow. My view is that it should not expand, and I will explain why. The case for a centralised mega-hub is evaporating, not least because travel is changing; transfer traffic across Europe has been declining for years due to advances in technology and the rise of low cost carriers, while point-to-point trips are increasing.

Across London, only 14% of passengers are transfer passengers, a figure that is expected to fall as more use is made of middle-eastern hubs like Dubai.

In addition, according to the DfT, business flights at Heathrow have been decreasing. In 2000, the percentage of business passengers was 38%, in 2005 it was 35% but by 2010 it was down to 30%.

There is no sense that any of these trends will change. For example we are told there will be a nine- fold increase at London airports in the next decade of new, smaller, and more fuel-efficient aircraft, capable of flying direct to long-haul destinations. Clearly this will have a significant impact on the way that airports are used in the future.

The alternative to cobbling back together a vast foreign-owned monopoly on one edge of our giant city, is to facilitate a super-competitive network, with our three main airports competing properly for customers. Above all that means investing in better surface links.

Like in most sectors, competition encourages innovation, adaptation to new technologies, choice and a better deal for customers. Who would pretend that Gatwick hasn’t become a significantly better airport since it was liberated from the old monopoly?

That’s why the Competition Commission recommended that the former BAA monopoly should be broken up.
An expanded Heathrow would represent a step backwards, a telegram solution in an internet age. It would enable Heathrow to cherry pick the most valuable passengers. Its disadvantaged competitors would struggle, and the effect could be a net decrease in capacity, as well as Heathrow itself reaching capacity sooner than anticipated.

For my part, I am not convinced by the case for expansion anywhere, although I do not pretend to be an expert of predict and supply – but whatever solution is sought, it should surely maximise, not suffocate competition.
It’s worth pointing out, in response to Heathrow’s scare stories that London is already well connected and well serviced. London has 6 airports and 7 runways- more than any of its European rivals. Heathrow has more flights to business destinations than any other airport in Europe; more than the combined total of Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. If you look at Heathrow’s connectivity to China’s most important cities, ranked by GDP, Heathrow has vastly more. More passengers fly in and out of London than any other city in the world.

We’re told that we need a mega hub to maintain routes to low-demand destinations, but that’s not what’s happening. For example New York is one of Heathrow’s most frequent routes. But 29% of passengers to New York are transfer passengers whose contribution to our economy is negligible. Is anyone suggesting those passengers are necessary to keep the New York route open? I believe most of Heathrow’s transfers are on the most popular routes, which would obviously therefore survive without transfers.

Providing passengers with more direct routes and reducing transfers could free up 30m additional passenger places per year at Heathrow. I have no doubt that if anyone bothered to ask passengers, they’d say they overwhelmingly prefer point-to point flights.

I was pleased that the Airport Commission’s Consultation report acknowledged that our economy would benefit from a network approach almost as much as the monopoly approach. If that’s true, it would be very hard, in a democracy, to justify pushing ahead with the option that will harm the most people. And be in no doubt it would, on many levels:
I want to look at the costs of Heathrow expansion.The airports Commission has reported that Heathrow massively underestimated the costings around expansion. As it happens, I believe the Commission itself has too, particularly in relation to surface transport.

Given that Heathrow’s CEO has admitted a successful third runway could necessitate a fourth, these considerations are even more important.

The third runway as proposed by the last Labour Govt would have led to an additional 25 million new road passenger journeys per year. How on earth can our already over-congested roads cope with this extra traffic?
In the medium term, during construction, how can Heathrow divert the M25 & A4 and carry out works to other minor roads, within the same time period without causing impossible traffic disruption for years? What is the cost of that disruption to the economy? Has it even been assessed?

Is it right for the public to pay for all this twice; for the actual improvements, and then through a substantial congestion charge to limit the damage to West London’s economy?

I don’t know if the Airport Commission has assessed the transport implications of a Third Runway on the roads in the vicinity of Heathrow, on local roads in adjacent boroughs, but if not, it’s hard to see how the process can be meaningful, and I urge the AC to commission TFL, who are uniquely placed to examine the issue, to do that work.

Then there is the cost of Noise. Heathrow already has a bigger impact on people’s quality of life, by many multiples, than any other airport in Europe. Heathrow airport, by a huge margin, is the largest noise polluter in Europe. It already affects over 750,000 people. No other country in Europe allows this.

The “next worst” airport in Europe affects less than one third of Heathrow’s total. Schipol, the airport much quoted as Heathrow’s hub competitor, affects sixteen times fewer people.

The WHO has long been very clear about the dangers of this level of noise: aggressive behaviours, stress hormones, high blood pressure levels, antisocial behaviour, hindering child development and so on.

I note that Heathrow has proposed various methods for reducing noise, for example steeper approaches and concentrated flightpaths, and these may have a marginal impact. But if Heathrow wants people to believe that an increase from 480,000 flights to 740,000 will lead to a reduction of noise, then I suggest the rest of their pitch needs to be taken with a generous pinch of salt.

It is worth pointing out that there was nothing stopping the airport bringing in these changes in the years gone by, and I’m interested to know why they are linked only to the prospect of a third runway.

I also want to point out some figures in Heathrow’s and Airport Commission’s National Noise Assessment, which suggest that the North West runway, while potentially removing 250k from the noise contour, would bring a fresh 320k into the noise contours. These are people who have never had to experience what my constituents have had to experience. I’d like to know what weight should be attached to those people who are yet to be affected.

Finally, I want to comment on the process and the politics:
There is a dishonesty in this debate. We are discussing a third runway, but we know that a successful third runway will give rise to a fourth runway. Heathrow’s CEO has said so himself.
Even more importantly, there is no clear information on proposed new flightpaths.
There are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives will be turned upside down, but who know absolutely nothing of it. This is simply not acceptable in a democracy.

I must say that even while Heathrow will attempt to downplay that information, the campaign against Heathrow expansion will make sure they are given it. And the campaign we saw last time around, which was the biggest such campaign anywhere in the world, will appear trivial next to the campaign you can expect if a green light is given to expansion.

Thankfully we do live in a democracy. Governments can make grand promises, but they cannot deliver them without consent. A third runway might be possible in tyrannical regimes, but no one who understands the politics of all this believes it can be delivered here.”

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  1. James Walker
    22nd March 2015

    Not sure where this comment will go but the address by Zac Goldsmith is hugely supported by us in Molesey! We hope our own MP Dominic Raab is in receipt of a copy! And will continue to take up the cause on our behalf. Perhaps we should start up our own group!

    • admin
      6th May 2015

      Please do – we know of a councillor who is on the Community Noise Forum with us who is very outspoken on this. Or join us- we are also acting for the wider community. We can work together.

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