Green Party councillors are urging West Berkshire Council to reverse its previous support for a massive expansion of Heathrow airport, including a third runway.
At the full council meeting on 2 July, the Greens put forward a motion calling on the council to oppose Heathrow expansion because it is “incompatible with tackling the climate emergency and the UK becoming carbon neutral by 2030”.
However, the Green Party supports the Heathrow Western Rail Link – to run from Reading to Heathrow – because it will take more cars off the road, thereby reducing congestion and air pollution.
Green councillor David Marsh told the meeting: “West Berkshire Council has just taken the momentous step of declaring a climate emergency and setting a target date to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030 – 20 years ahead of the government.
“Now our new policy is already being put to the test: are we, as a local authority, serious about our response to climate change?
“A year ago, the previous council passed a resolution of support for expansion of Heathrow. Since then, things have changed in two main ways.
“First, as I mentioned, we have recognised that the world faces a climate emergency and that we have barely a dozen years left to mitigate its most damaging effects.
“Second, we now know much more detail about Heathrow’s plans:
More than 700 additional flights every day.
New car parks for 50,000 – 50,000! – vehicles.
The runway alone will cost £14bn (and rising).
The infrastructure cost to the Treasury, for example putting the M25 into a tunnel – which we would all pay for – will be £30bn (and rising).
Nearly a million households will be affected by decades of disruption, accompanied by air and noise pollution, and associated health problems.
“In summary, to quote Sir Simon Jenkins (not notable for being a supporter of the Green Party or Extinction Rebellion): ‘It is a plan so monstrous, so expensive, so disruptive, and so archaic, as to beggar belief. It is barking mad!’
“The Heathrow authorities declare that “environmental considerations” will be “at the heart of expansion”, a claim so far-fetched that even Chris Grayling, a transport secretary who awards ferry contracts to companies that don’t have any boats, might struggle to believe it.
“Heathrow is already the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK. To keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030, an aim to which this council has now committed itself, aircraft emissions need to fall – on current figures, they are rising: global aviation emissions passed 1 gigatonnes of CO2 for the first time this year.
“In a new study for the website Carbon Brief, academics from the UK and Germany confirm that the planned growth of Heathrow and other airports is likely to prevent the government hitting its 2050 target, by which time according to the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change it will be too late anyway!
“What about the claim that businesses need an enlarged Heathrow to tap into some brave new post-Brexit world of export opportunity? Well, 80% of UK flights are for leisure and tourism, not business, and they are taken by about 15% of the population. The struggling airlines want to put on more and cheaper flights, so that the same modest proportion of frequent flyers can continue with their minority pursuit at the expense of everyone else.
“This is simply unsustainable. How can the number of flights be doubled without increasing road traffic, air pollution, carbon emissions and noise? It’s just not possible.
“Heathrow’s expansion plans make a mockery of the government’s claims that it can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. (And remember, we don’t agree with the government: West Berkshire’s target is 20 years sooner than that.) If we continue to support these plans, there is a real danger that we will be making a mockery of our own policy.
“Let’s not fall at the very first hurdle. Let’s show that things have changed, that we have changed as a local authority, and that we really mean it when we say we are putting the environment and the climate change crisis at the heart of everything we do.”
Fellow Green councillor Steve Masters said: “The expansion of Heathrow is not compatible with the target of carbon neutrality at a national level. We should be bold and say No. If we cannot get something as basic and fundamental as this right how are the public going to believe we can deliver the tough stuff?”
The Heathrow Airport Expansion Consultation opened on 18 June and closes on 13 September 2019. The next full meeting of West Berkshire Council is not until the evening before the consultation closes, so the Greens argued that this was the last chance for a proper debate before the council’s submission is drawn up.
Councillor Graham Pask, Conservative chairman of West Berkshire Council, refused to allow a debate and referred the Greens’ motion to the council’s Transport Advisory Group, but Green Party councillors will continue to oppose the expansion of Heathrow.