Heathrow airport’s controversial expansion plans are emerging as a crucial points-scoring tool in the Richmond Park election race.
As decision day approaches, the electioneering from the main candidates is becoming as loud as the hundreds of planes that fly over the south west London borough on a daily basis.
Despite almost 800,000 people already being affected by air traffic, the need for London to increase its passenger capacity has led to an Airports Commission examining three expansion bids.
The publication of the commission’s final recommendations has been delayed until summer to avoid it clashing with the election.
This coupled with the fact that two of the proposals are from Heathrow makes it a vibrant political issue in the Richmond Park constituency.
The commission estimates that a further 320,000 people would be affected by Heathrow noise in the event of expansion and there was a further setback earlier this month as Transport for London (TfL) waded into the debate.
In a letter to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Heathrow and the Wider Economy, TfL stated that the commission has underestimated the cost of improving transport access to the airport by £15billion.
The commission reports that only £5billion has been budgeted for improving surface access to the airport, work TfL believes will cost closer to £20billion.
In addition TfL said both the commission and Heathrow have failed to account for an expected population growth of 37% by 2050, bringing increased pressure on roads and public transport.
Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park for the past five years, has long had a strong stance on the proposed Heathrow expansion, best reflected by his role as chair of the Heathrow APPG.
Mr Goldsmith believes that expanding Heathrow would not boost the number of passengers coming to the UK but instead would mean Heathrow would absorb traffic from other British airports.
Mr Goldsmith said: “If TfL is right, the taxpayer may end up having to cough up an additional £15billion to help Heathrow secure its monopoly.
“TfL is better placed than any other organisation to understand the effects Heathrow expansion will have on London’s transport network, and it is extraordinary that the commission never bothered to ask for its assessment.
“This raises serious questions about the thoroughness and reliability of the commission’s work.”
Mr Goldsmith’s rival candidates for the Richmond Park seat share his stance.
Liberal Democrat candidate Robin Meltzer said: “I agree with TfL and am against the expansion of Heathrow.
“However quiet planes get, they are still noisy. However safe planes get, they are still flying above an extraordinarily densely populated chunk of residential London.
“The airport is big enough, there is no connectivity crisis. London is widely regarded as one of the best connected cities in the world with its five airports serving around 130million passengers every year.”
The Green Party, whose Richmond Park candidate is Andree Frieze, have long been opposed to any expansion of Heathrow.
“Like all members of the Green Party, I am against airport expansion,” she said.
“We cannot stop global warming by growing air travel.”
In 2009 Labour introduced the third Heathrow runway idea but candidate Sachin Patel conceded that the party’s position has changed under Ed Miliband, and he will therefore await the commission’s findings before making a final decision.
He said: “As a campaigner for a better environment, I would not support any proposals that would breach any of the existing standards on air pollution or noise pollution.”
Picture courtesy of [email protected], with thanks