Critique of 11 claims by DfT (original post by Airport Watch)

Critique of 11 claims by DfT, in its 1.5 million pro-Heathrow runway leaflets, for NPS consultation

This post was originally created and posted by Airport Watch on 16th Feb 2017. Copyright Airport Watch 2017

The DfT has sent out 1.5 million leaflets to households in areas not too far from Heathrow. The leaflets make no attempt whatsoever of balance, and are merely advertising the runway plans and promoting them. Many of the claims are misleading, or so abbreviated as to be unclear. Below there is a critique of the claims, point by point, and links to evidence backing up the criticisms. If anyone has received a leaflet, and wonders about the facts, this webpage may give some useful information. Just a few examples of the dubious statements in the leaflet:  the figure of £61 billion economic benefit is given, leaving out the proviso that this is over 60 years.  There is much made of the generosity of the compensation to be given for compulsory purchase, but in reality anything much below 125% would be derisory, and way below world standards. The claim about six and a half hours of no scheduled night flights omits to mention how many flights, scheduled before 11pm, often take off almost to midnight. And though there may be 6 more domestic links from Heathrow, these are likely to be unprofitable and may not last for long. The loss of long haul routes from other UK airports, due to a larger Heathrow, is conveniently ignored.

The information below may be useful in interpreting, and reading critically, the DfT promotional leaflet for the 3rd Heathrow runway

The DfT leaflet that has been sent out to 1.5 million households, especially those in areas where there is a consultation event.

See larger version of the leaflet here 

Below are the claims made in the leaflet, and some explanation about why these are incomplete or misleading:

DfT Claim 1.

The government has been clear that a world-class package of measures should be put in place to support local communities (meaning those whose homes are compulsory purchased, or otherwise have to move).

The rates of compensation are not especially generous. They will have been set at 125% because anything lower would cause uproar. See the comment below:

[The article talks first of the inadequacy of an offer of just 110% for HS2.]

“In the US, the government forcibly taking someone’s home is seen as the most fundamental violation by the state of an individual’s rights, and the non-stop subject of emotional national debate (they call it “eminent domain”). In France, the government takes a practical view and offers such generous compensation that people are glad to move. The UK government’s meanness on compulsory purchase compensation is not just an insult to thousands of homeowners, but it is also ultimately self-defeating. By failing to recognise the real cost of being forced to move home, it ensures that homeowners along the HS2 route will feel they have no option but to do everything they can to block the new train line. The government is more likely to realise it plans if it does what the French do, and just buy off the opposition of those most directly affected. And that means compensation of at least 25%.”   Link 

DfT Claim 2.

Expansion can be delivered within existing air quality requirements, and this will be a condition of planning approval.

All Heathrow has offered to do is try to get 55% of passengers to travel to the airport by public transport.  (Public transport includes buses …. currently many powered by diesel).  See link

They hope to get more staff to travel to work by public transport.   See link

They hope society will change, and overall there will be fewer diesel vehicles. That is not under Heathrow’s control.   For example, see link

They plan to use more electric vehicles on the airport, and make some changes to slightly cut NO2 emissions by planes, airport vehicles etc.   See link    These changes are not likely to make a huge difference, and electric vehicles are not a “silver bullet”.  See link

The government hoped they would not be breaching EU law if there was somewhere else in the London area that had even worse air quality than Heathrow. That argument is not acceptable legally.  See link

Heathrow has no control over the vehicle use by businesses that may choose to locate near Heathrow, and which would use local roads.

There are plans to get more staff (and some passengers ….!) to cycle to the airport.  Realistically that is not going to make a big dent in air pollution.   See link

DfT Claim 3.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because of tens of thousands of additional local jobs by 2030.

The Airports Commission said there might be up to 77,000 jobs around Heathrow. Their final report said:

“Expansion at Heathrow would drive a substantial increase in employment at and around the airport, generating an additional 59 – 77,000 jobs [ie. additional direct, indirect and induced jobs] in 2030 for local people and for the fast-growing wider population in London and the South East, ….”  See link

However, by October 2016 the DfT had reduced this number. They had been using Heathrow’s estimates, but decided in 2016 to use assessments by others. The new figure was given as up to 37,700.   See link 

However, the DfT continues to use the “up to 77,000” claim.   Note: “Up to” is vague; it could be as low as almost none.  However, the DfT depends on lazy journalists omitting the “up to” part of the statement, so the 77,000 figure becomes the accepted wisdom.  Unjustifiably.

It is likely that some jobs might relocate to the Heathrow area from elsewhere. So they are not a net gain in jobs for the UK, just shifting them around.

DfT Claim 4.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because expected economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion.

The leaflet craftily omits to say that this is to all the UK, over 60 years. Yes, over 60 years. That means up to around 2085, when a lot of us will no longer be around.

The original figure by the Airports Commission was for a maximum of £147 billion over 60 years.  That was found to be using very dodgy methodology.  The government was warned about this repeatedly but continued to use it.

Heathrow used to use the claim of £221 billion for the UK over 60 years.

In October 2016, the DfT admitted the more likely figure would be £61 billion (not £147 billion).

Other estimates, using conventional ways to assess large projects, puts the benefit to the UK (taking all the costs into account, and not only adding up the benefits – as the DfT has done) of almost nothing.

The Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee in Parliament has repeatedly (at least 4 times over the past year or so) asked for explanations of the figures. He has not yet received an adequate reply.  See link (Dec 2016) and link (Sept 2016)

DfT Claim 5.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because £114 billion value of freight to non-EU countries in 2015. This was more than all other UK airports combined.

Bearing in mind that Heathrow has the vast majority of all the flights from the UK to non-EU destinations, and many airports hardly do any air freight, that is scarcely a surprising fact. Most flights to leisure destinations from airports other than Heathrow probably do not deal with a lot of freight, and most of those only go to holiday spots in the US, or Thailand etc.

There are few flights to the Far East, other than from Heathrow. Manchester is the only other airport with flights to China.

DfT Claim 6.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because Heathrow Airport Limited pledge to create 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2030.

It is nice that they plan to create some apprenticeships.  What is now known is how many of those are for genuinely unemployed young people, and how many are just retraining existing employees.  That is not quite so good.  See link 

DfT Claim 7.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because Heathrow proposes 6 new domestic routes.

It is remarkable that with so many airports in the UK, Heathrow will only be adding links to 6 more of them. These links have been cut in the past, as they are less profitable than longer haul routes.  They generally make a loss, like Virgin’s Little Red.  See link

The new routes would only be viable for airlines if they are subsidised in some way. If they are not viable, there is no guarantee they will be kept.  See link 

BA has said it is not interested. See link

What the DfT is careful not to say is that the Heathrow runway will have the effect (as they know and as the Airports Commission knew well) of making long haul flights to many destinations from UK regional airports less successful. There is likely to be a reduction in the long haul routes from non-Heathrow airports, which will not be popular with them.  See link

DfT Claim 8.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because a package of measures to support people near the airport has been proposed, including total compensation package for the local communities most affected by expansion worth up to £2.6 billion.

They already mentioned the world class compensation, so are having to repeat themselves.

What this actually means is that Heathrow has to buy up 783 homes, and demolish them for the runway.  And pay 125% of the price, plus stamp duty and costs.

The other 3,500 or so homes may also be bought, on the same terms. However, these do not need to be demolished.

Heathrow is likely therefore to do them up, maybe knock some down and build more flats on the site, etc.  If they can make back nearly as much as they paid, by improving the properties, their overall loss may be very small.

It may take a few years to get this money back, but overall Heathrow is not likely to lose much money, if it is clever with its property portfolio.   Some calculations here

DfT Claim 9.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because a package of measures to support people near the airport has been proposed, including a 6 and a half hour of scheduled night flights.

This is very disingenuous.

The key word is “scheduled”.

It does not mean there would be no flights between 11pm and 5.30am.  It merely means there will be late planes taking off, well past 11pm, and none scheduled before 5.30am.

There are currently no flights scheduled to leave Heathrow after 11pm. But night after night, many do. On some days, if there have been delays for some reason, they continue to take off till midnight. It is not known if that will be stopped. It is highly unlikely.

Only a real ban of no planes taking off or landing after 11pm would really qualify as a real night ban. But can anyone imagine Heathrow saying to a plane, with passengers boarding at 10.45pm, that they are sorry, but they will all have to go back to the terminal and find hotel bedrooms for the night – before taking off in the morning?  It is not, realistically, going to happen.

The Airports Commission said there should be a ban from 11.30pm to 6am.   Heathrow would not accept this, and will only consider 5.30am.  See link

For good health, adults need 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night.  Those older and younger need even more.  A short break with no noise for perhaps 6 hours, (taking account of the late departures) is not enough for health.  See link

It is likely that there would be a large number of flights in the “shoulder period” from 5.30am to 7am or so. This is when people are still trying to sleep, and people tend to then be sleeping less deeply – and have more trouble getting back to sleep, if woken.

DfT Claim 10.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because a package of measures to support people near the airport has been proposed, including a package of over £700 million on noise insulation for homes.

The figure of £700 million is very low indeed, when the number of people who would be affected by high levels of intrusive plane noise is considered.

The estimate is that160,000 homes might be within the 55 decibel Lden noise contour, with the worst affected homes getting the full cost of noise insulation paid and others getting up to £3,000 to pay for the work.

People who live in noisy areas have said that even with all that is provided by the airport, there is still noise. And if windows are opened at night in summer, the insulation is of no use.

Huge numbers of people suffering from plane noise would be excluded.  HACAN estimated the cost of really doing proper insulation for everyone needing it might be more like £1.8 billion.  And the insulation is not all going to be done quickly – some could take years.  See link.

DfT Claim 11.

The government prefers the NW Heathrow runway because a package of measures to support people near the airport has been proposed, including £40 million to insulate and ventilate schools and other community buildings.

That would be nice.  However, the airport’s track record of getting school insulation  done is lamentable.  It took 10 years for them to just £4.8 million of work – and that was only done in a rush (April 2015), to try to impress the Airports Commission before they published their (pro Heathrow) decision in July 2015.  See link

Heathrow has put adobe buildings, to give the illusion that children are playing “outside” in some of the worst affected schools, to try to alleviate the massive problem. This is a true sticking plaster sort of solution. See link

Claim 12 ???

There is no claim on carbon, or noise, or spending on roads or rail …..  see below …

What is NOT mentioned in the leaflet

1. Heathrow’s carbon emissions

The inquisitive may wonder why there is no mention in the DfT leaflet about Heathrow and how it will meet carbon targets.

This is because the DfT has given up on this one.

Statements from the DfT and Chris Grayling now either make no mention of carbon emissions, or say they will ignore the advise from the (Government advisors) the Committee on Climate Change, about them.

The government knows it cannot expand Heathrow without breaching the recommended cap on carbon from UK aviation. That means it is unlikely the UK could meet its legally binding 2050 carbon target.  See link

2. Hugely increased noise

There is no mention of noise, which is rather surprising as the consultation events – and the leaflet target areas – are those that suffer from aircraft noise associated with Heathrow.

Having said earlier that Heathrow can increase the number of flights by 50% and there would be no increase in noise, (see link) perhaps the government realises that this statement is not credible. The only way this could be true is by clever manipulation of flight paths to keep the area and the number of people within the 57dB average noise contour constant. This is NOT a true measure of noise, or the number of people affected.

The DfT no longer seems to be trying to persuade people there will be no more noise, and is giving the public the credit for not being gullible idiots.

There are no soothing statements in the leaflet on noise, because it is inevitable there will be hugely more noise, and it will affect tens or hundred of thousands of new people.  It will also affect many of those currently overflown worse, because of the way flight paths with 3 runways will have to alter. For example, while people currently living under the approach flight paths from the east now get a break from noise for half a day, this would reduce to about a quarter of a day with the 3rd runway.

3. Heathrow paying for surface transport infrastructure

The government does not want the cost of flying to rise, as that might cut demand (and Heathrow might not be able to repay the immense £17 billion or so cost of its expansion).

So the DfT is not mentioning the massive cost of improving road and rail links to Heathrow, that would be needed for the expansion.  These links are struggling to cope already, with a 2 runway airport and the huge, growing population in the area.

With an extra 50% of total Heathrow passengers (maybe a third of them would be transfer passengers, never leaving the airport) there will be more pressure on public transport. That is especially the case as Heathrow says 55% of its passengers will use public transport, and more of its staff.

While the Airports Commission assessed the cost of surface infrastructure at about £5 billion for Heathrow to pay, Transport for London estimated up to about £18 billion.  (See link)  That would be to try to keep the quality of the service for all passengers (not just Heathrow passengers) at a decent level, where there are enough seats etc.

But Heathrow has only said it would spend £1.1 billion on surface access.  (See link) No more. The rest of the cost would be borne by the UK taxpayer. That means taxpayers across the country, many of whom would derive absolutely no benefit from Heathrow.

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