Unlike the other possibilities for aircraft expansion in the London area, Heathrow is based in the middle of a densely urban environment and any growth would affect millions of people.
A third runway build at Heathrow would increase the number of flights handled by the airport by more than 220,000 a year, meaning a huge increase in both noise and air pollution.
Much of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is already subjected to over 50 decibels of noise, the level the World Health Organisation considers to be problematic, and the extra runway and flights would ensure that this increased even further.
Increases in noise pollution have been shown to cause hypertension, ischemic heart disease, stress, annoyance and sleep disturbance. Changes in the immune system have also been attributed to noise exposure and there has been anecdotal and research evidence to show that children’s education can suffer when they attend schools below a flight path.
During the previous Government’s campaign for the third runway at Heathrow they claimed that the increase of flights from 473,000 in 2006 to over 700,000 scheduled to take place by 2020 would allow the airport pollution limits to stay within EU rules. This was, however, based upon the possible future improvements in individual aircraft emissions but many independent observers doubt that there would be sufficient ‘cleaning up’ of jet engines to allow such a large increase in flights without a corresponding deterioration in air quality.
As well as the impact from extra flights, a major addition to air pollution would come from the increase in ground traffic associated with more aircraft movements. More flights means more passengers, which in turn means more people needing to get to and from the airport.
There are a large number of proven health effects from increased air pollution ranging from wheezing or shortness of breath (including asthma attacks) to chronic issues such as cancer and heart disease.
The previous plans for a third runway at Heathrow called for the destruction of around 700 homes, including the entire village of Sipson, at the minimum. This doesn’t include properties that would need to be destroyed for access roads and road widening etc. or those that would now be so close to the new runway they would become uninhabitable. Entire communities would be wiped out and some estimates put the figures at 10,000 people needing to me moved, the largest forced removal in over 100 years.
Aviation is the fastest growing contributor to climate change in the UK; already it makes up 6% of total emissions. A World Development Movement study proposed that a third runway alone would emit the same levels of CO2 every year as Kenya.
Updated: 22 July 2015