Thanks a lot British Airways! By this time in the year, I normally manage to sleep through the 5.00 wake-up call of BA56 from Johannesberg as it flies directly over my house to turn to the right for its final approach to London Heathrow Airport. But this morning the weather was cloudy and grim and the elderly Jumbo Jet groaned even more loudly than usual as it flew over my loft-conversion bedroom and woke me up.
I don’t live anywhere near Heathrow airport. I’m 25 miles away from it as the ‘plane flies. It’s the other side of London and, when travelling or meeting friends or relatives, we have to leave about 3 hours for the traffic-choked car journey to be more or less safe for what can be a 50 minute journey at 5am. Getting there on the tube takes a minimum of and hour and a half. We’re not in East Sheen or Richmond or Hounslow or any of those oft-cited, blighted West London places nearer the airport. But the ‘planes pass over our house as they turn and descend for their final approach to the airport queue. In fact, drive to Beckenham from Wandsworth and Battersea and you can see a stacked queue of lights reaching back diagonally in the sky. Our house is on the southern rotation route and when it’s our turn to suffer the overflight, we have as many as one ‘plane every minute or so flying over our house. Have a look on the FlightRadar24 app if you want to see this. This app shows that it is the same miserable story for people to the north of the river when it’s their turn to pass their air stacking space over to incoming flights. Most days a queue of early-morning Transatlantic and East Asian redeyes turn around in quick succession over Bromley and Beckenham to approach Heathrow flying into the Westerly wind even earlier than 5am. Sometimes, there is a mid-air traffic jam too, and the planes go round in circles several times before they join the final stack.
So the noise nuisance is bad enough as it is, without plans for a THIRD runway at Heathrow. Gordon Brown’s support for it was one of the main things that made me vote against him at the last election. That Boris Johnson continues to oppose the third runway, in the face of the apparent U-turn by many of his Conservative colleagues, is one of the reasons I supported him in the Mayoral election. Our own Bromley Council had no policy to contribute to the debate when I asked them a while ago. Boris’s long-standing idea for a possible new London airport in the Thames Estuary, east of London, previously thought to be an example of his crazy buffoonery, seems to be garnering support. I understand that there are issues with areas of abundant natural wildlife and, of course, there is the larger question of whether it is right to build a new airport to support the environmentally-disastrous airline industry, but surely it is better to build a new fit-for-purpose airport from scratch right away from people’s homes, rather than bolting on a badly-served runway to the existing terminal mishmash of Heathrow? And no, it’s not a case of pure NIMBYism. This problem affects all Londoners, indeed, it is almost impossible for anyone in South East England to get completely away from the drone of the ‘plane. Isn’t it difficult and stressful enough living in London, without increased early morning noise pollution? Not to mention the demands more flights would put on our infrastructure. Road traffic is bad enough in West London as it is, the tubes are already crowded, without more Heathrow passengers.
Now, business leaders and politicians often say that our lack of runway infrastructure is making us fall far behind China, for example, in our competitiveness. I have no idea whether that is true or whether the demand for air travel is likely to increase in the next few years. We can only speculate. The Chinese people, of course, have no real means of protest against airport expansion. They have to accept what is dished out to them in a country where dissidents are routinely locked up. But surely we could set an example by making more and better use of available communications technology to meet people from the other side of the world rather than making quite so many health- and environment-sapping air-journeys? If the technology isn’t slick enough, surely we could put energy into making it better? At any rate, I don’t think a third runway at Heathrow is the answer.