Virendra Sharma: Heathrow will be a green and quiet source of employment and skills for a successful London


Last week the government confirmed that it is now more urgent than ever to expand Heathrow, and they have set out the next steps to deliver a third runway, including a further public consultation on updated air quality and demand forecasts. Some have questioned if this additional consultation means Heathrow expansion will ever get off the ground. We cannot miss the opportunity to expand Heathrow – Britain’s hub airport is an engine for growth and if London is to thrive we must grasp the opportunity and expand it responsibly.

Few know better than me what is at stake in expanding Heathrow. I resigned as parliamentary private secretary to the minister of state at the Home Office and Treasury in 2009 over government proposals for expansion at Heathrow. The plan was unsympathetic to local residents, it ignored concerns about both environmental and noise pollution and didn’t offer enough in the way of increased surface access to do anything other than create more congestion around my constituency in west London, and many surrounding it.

Since 2009, I have worked closely with Heathrow to explain what has worried us, and what we deserve to get from a world-leading hub airport. For me, it meant the environment, living standards and opportunities for young people. And in the eight years since I voted against expansion, Heathrow has listened and responded positively to our suggestions and I hope learnt a little about rooting the community in their plans.

Expansion won’t just continue to provide the jobs that we currently have, but it guarantees up to 40,000 new jobs and £35bn of economic growth in London alone. Heathrow will also double the number of apprentices from 5,000 to 10,000. That could mean the almost total eradication of youth unemployment across communities next to the airport and thousands of newly-skilled young people throughout the capital.

It is why I was so proud to join Lord Blunkett last year at the announcement of Heathrow’s skills taskforce. Over the past year, Lord Blunkett has led the taskforce in looking at how to address the national skills shortage, including by collaborating with other major British infrastructure projects to share best practice. The taskforce will continue to ensure expansion delivers meaningful career opportunities for the next generation.

But it isn’t only those directly employed by Heathrow who stand to gain from expansion. With thousands more employed in my borough, Ealing, and across London, there will be many more people spending money in the local economy, meaning more jobs locally and success for local small businesses.

The newest plans from Heathrow are a significantly enhanced offer for international trade, with twice as much freight capacity, allowing exporters in my constituency to take advantage of the airport on their doorstep. And with up to 40 new long-haul destinations, as well as up to 16 domestic routes, it will keep London in its rightful place as a world city at the centre of global commerce, where it has been for centuries.

We will soon have the first Crossrail trains running through Ealing and Southall and, by the time Heathrow expansion is completed, upgraded Piccadilly line trains will also run through the south of the borough. Not only will the issue of overcrowding at our local stations have been resolved, but Heathrow will then be the world’s best connected airport, with quick access for us, rapid links to east London through Crossrail, and to Manchester and Leeds through High Speed 2. We will be ideally placed to benefit from increased trade and inward investment.

One of my most important reasons for previously opposing Heathrow expansion was the risk of increased noise and pollution. We have taken part in a public consultation on noise and property compensation plans. Heathrow listened to local residents and now we will benefit from a 6.5 hour night flight ban, runway alternations which ensure guaranteed periods of noise respite and innovative procedures like steeper approaches which are already being successfully trialled. Heathrow will also provide £700m of noise insulation covering 160,000 homes – £610m more than the previous proposal for a third runway.

No airport will be without an environmental impact and Heathrow’s poor record on emissions was the other major source of concern I had regarding expansion. Heathrow has, however, introduced higher landing costs for the loudest and most polluting aircraft and no additional capacity will be released until the airport guarantees it is on course to comply with EU emission limits. The push to encourage as many passengers as possible to travel by public transport will also reduce emissions from private vehicles, one of the largest contributors to pollution. New projects like Crossrail, HS2 and rail links to the west and south will make this possible.

In its announcement this week, the government confirmed that Heathrow could expand within air quality limits. To provide transparent scrutiny of the plans, the Environment Agency has been invited to take up the role of an independent aviation air quality authority. It will ensure that Heathrow delivers what it has promised as an increasingly green and quiet source of employment and skills for a successful west London.

Heathrow’s new expansion plan is one that works for everyone in west London, across the capital and in every corner of Britain. It is one which I now support alongside a vast majority of my colleagues in parliament. Unions including Unite, TUC and Community are united with major business groups like the FSB, BCC and CBI in all backing an expanded Heathrow to deliver the jobs and growth Britain and west London need – particularly after Brexit.

There have been many developments since the 2009 proposals and, with all of the changes made to the plans, I know an expanded Heathrow would represent a world-beating offer for Ealing, Southall, west London and the entire country.

Virendra Sharma is MP for Ealing Southall.

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