Heathrow – against a return to airport “business as usual”

19 June 2020


letter published in the Slough Express 19 June 2020

James Swindlehurst (Letters, Slough Express, 12 June) paints a rosy picture of the benign impact of Heathrow. Slough certainly benefits through employment and business links generated by Heathrow and the impact of Covid-19 on the airline industry has affected Slough's economy.

However Councillor Swindlehurst ignores half the picture and future realities. The near closure of Heathrow has not been all bad. It has given us more peace, less pollution and lower carbon emissions (legal pollution limits have consistently been breached around the airport). There is more realisation that frequent flying is not essential. No doubt Heathrow will need to continue to operate to some degree, but Councillor Swindlehurst envisages a return to “a thriving Heathrow”. However it is debatable whether air travel will or should return to its previous levels.

The primary reason against a return to airport “business as usual” is the government's commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (which is probably too late to keep the increase in global temperatures to a manageable level). This is why the Councillor's own party is advocating a Green New Deal to steer the economy in a more sustainable direction. And why the government's approval for a third runway was declared illegal recently because it ignored  commitment to the Paris treaty on climate change.

Before the lockdown, air travel was contributing 15% of the UK's impact on climate change.  A single return flight to New York emits more carbon than the average person does in a whole year in 56 other countries. Each of these flights would exceed an individual “allowance” of carbon for the whole year under the 2050 commitment.

Despite these harsh facts, a tripling of air travel is widely predicted, in which case there is no hope of stopping catastrophic climate change. All sources of carbon emissions without exception must reduce the damage they are doing.

To this end Slough Council itself is promising an Action Plan by next month to reduce carbon emissions. The Council of course has no powers to affect decisions about Heathrow, but it is to be hoped that this Action Plan will address the threat of disastrous climate change more seriously than appears to be the case from the Council leader's letter.

John Wilding
East Berkshire Green Party



Back to main news page