I quit government over Heathrow expansion: This is why I changed my mind

 
Virendra Sharma
The Debate Over The Third Runway At Heathrow Airport Continues
Heathrow has introduced higher landing costs for the loudest and most polluting aircraft (Source: Getty)

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 it 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 seven 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.

Read more: Brexit makes new runways at both Heathrow and Gatwick more urgent than ever

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 at the announcement of Heathrow’s Skills Taskforce, which he will chair. His history of delivering as secretary of state for education and employment, and then as home secretary, means he brings an unrivalled level of experience to the important task of teaching and training across our region.

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 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.

Read more: Britain has a moral duty to lead the world on free trade

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 HS2. We will be ideally placed to benefit from increased trade and inward investment.

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

Read more: Banning diesel cars is the wrong way to tackle pollution in London

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 to travel by public transport as possible will also reduce emissions from private vehicles, one of the largest contributors to pollution.

The Environment Agency has been invited to take up the role of an independent aviation air quality authority, to provide transparent scrutiny of the plans. 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 and across the capital. It is one which I now support, and according to new Populus polling this week, a strong majority, 64 per cent, of my constituents do as well.

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.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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