To receive a report from the Principal Policy & Strategy Officer presenting the findings of the Hammersmith & Fulham Commission on Airport Expansion
The Chair welcomed Christina Smyth, Chair of the Hammersmith & Fulham Commission on Airport Expansion (HFCAE), an independent, resident-led investigation into the proposals to expand Heathrow Airport. Ms Smyth explained that HFCAE would be submitting its findings and conclusions to the Airports Commission separately from the Council, which may choose to include some, all or none of the HFCAE findings into its own submission.
Ms Smyth presented the HFCAE draft final report to the Committee and described how the members of the commission were drawn from local resident groups who worked hard over the Christmas period to analyse large quantities of technical data and to question expert witnesses. The Commission also received support from Council officers. Ms Smyth highlighted three main points from the report and the conclusions of the HFCAE:
1. Information about local impacts of Heathrow expansion was imperfect. There were gaps, for example, on air quality and precise flight paths, and unrealistic assumptions on noise mitigation. It was felt that these gaps have undermined the value of the Airports Commission consultation process.
2. However, the residents' commission worked very hard within these limitations and reviewed all available evidence, including questioning Heathrow Airports Limited and Heathrow Hub at an oral hearing, and their conclusions are based on this evidence.
3. The report concluded that, if Heathrow were to expand under either of the options, Hammersmith & Fulham would enjoy some economic and leisure benefits, although economic developments elsewhere in the borough mean it is not dependent on them. In any case, these benefits would be far outweighed by the adverse effects of additional flights overhead, additional flight paths over the borough, additional noise, road and public transport congestion, worse air quality and uncertainty about precise impacts for many years. The HFCAE therefore opposed expansion in the interest of residents' health and quality of life.
Ms Smyth also stated that whether or not expansion goes ahead, the community should try to work with Heathrow to encourage them to bring in the noise and air quality mitigations which were mentioned in their submission to the Airports Commission. It was the ambition of HFCAE to get those enhancements without an additional runway.
The Chair thanked Ms Smyth and all of the members of the HFCAE for their hard work and for giving up their time to produce a response in line with the tight submission deadlines of the Airports Commission.
A member of the public asked if the report considered whether a new parallel runway that spanned the M25 and the reservoir would have a different impact on Hammersmith & Fulham. Ms Smyth explained that the investigation focussed only on those proposals that were included by the Davies Commission, so principally looked at the planned new runway to the north-west. However it was not considered that either option would have different effects on the borough.
Concern was voiced by a member of the public regarding safety and in-flight near misses over the borough. It was suggested at the previous Committee that a Freedom of Information request be submitted to obtain data on the frequency of near misses and it was asked whether this had been done. Ms Smyth stated that a request had not been submitted due to the tight timescale which required a response to the proposals before 3rd February 2015. With regard to safety, the Commission learned a lot from witnesses and were satisfied that safety was a primary concern for the authorities. It was felt that if there was a significant safety risk from the proposals, then any other benefits would be discounted. Ms Smyth also highlighted the recent incident in which the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) system went offline for 35 minutes, and described her concern that any increase in air traffic could lead to more such incidents.
A member of the public disagreed with the report and argued that the comparison with the NATS incident was scaremongering. He voiced the opinion that as the report was based on incomplete data, its conclusions could not be considered sound. He also suggested that the economic benefits of Heathrow airport should not be over-looked. Ms Smyth explained that the economic benefits were highlighted in the report and argued that whilst the evidence sources were imperfect, the report’s conclusions were based on all available evidence. She also emphasised that the report did not recommend or consider whether Heathrow airport be closed in its entirety, as it only looked at the expansion proposals that were part of the public consultation.
Members of the public and the Committee discussed whether the proposals might have an effect on indicators such as house prices and whether the noise of planes overhead was a concern for potential buyers. A member of the public highlighted that many luxury developers were still buying and building properties in the area. Ms Smyth explained that this was a very indirect indicator and house sales depend upon a wide range of different factors. The key objective was to preserve the borough and the reasons why it was loved by residents.
The meeting discussed the types of aircraft that could be used following suggestion that newer planes were substantially quieter when flying overhead. A member of the HFCAE explained that the assumptions made by Heathrow Airport regarding the make-up of their fleet was thought to be very optimistic by the Davies Commission, which argued that due to the long lives of aircraft any benefit from newer planes would not be felt for some time.
The Committee also highlighted its concern regarding air quality. It was argued that air quality in the borough is already quite poor and as it was hidden from sight it was easy to forget. Ms Smyth agreed and explained that air quality was a key point of interest for the commission. She also explained that there had been no detailed air quality dispersal model available. The airport suggested that there would be limited increases in car journeys as a result of any expansion, but the HFCAE disagreed with this assessment and felt that the increase would further harm air quality in the borough.
The Chair thanked Ms Smyth and her colleagues on the commission for their hard work producing the report.
That the report be noted.