As of today, Boris Johnson is no longer Mayor of London. Officially he is, in terms of title, and in case any 'situation' arises in need of response. But practically, politically, his era has passed. The Greater London Authority has just entered purdah, a state of incommunicado, so as not to influence campaigning for the election in May. There'll be no more policy announcements or kite-flying press releases, not until Boris's replacement arrives at City Hall and stamps their authority on the Authority. But there was just time yesterday to sneak out one last 80 page report, on a matter very close to the outgoing Mayor's heart. It's that bloody airport again.
Landing the right airport is the title of the report, in which "the Mayor's team set out the overwhelming case against the expansion of Heathrow." This is proper Heathrow-bashing, with the very idea of adding a third runway pooh-poohed over dozens of pages, the emphasis being on the untold impacts on London's health, transport and economic wellbeing.
Heathrow performs heroically in the circumstances but is prone to delays and ultimately struggles in a cramped urban location not fit to accommodate a world class airport. A third runway at Heathrow fails to give us the access to the world we need. This is borne out by the Airports Commission’s own evidence, which found that an expanded Heathrow would effectively be full shortly after opening.
And that's all well and good, you might think, because last year the Airports Commission merely proposed that either Heathrow or Gatwick should be expanded. If the two Heathrow options are so terrible, surely Boris would now be attempting to nudge the Government's final decision towards the lesser evil of Gatwick? Not so, because his report goes on to outline "the logic behind building a four-runway hub to the east of London". The estuary airport may be a dead horse, but Boris is still flogging it.
We need a long term vision for the right airport that sustains our economy and safeguards our public health. That airport is a new four-runway hub airport at the Thames Estuary or Stansted – one that can support a United Kingdom fully engaged with the world. I would urge Government not to turn its back on our future.
The introductory cartoon is almost sweet.
A 'typical' west London family are suffering the impact of an expanded Heathrow, with particular reference to noise, air quality and surface access. One can't sleep, one can no longer board her train, one has higher blood pressure, one coughs more, and one gets worse results in school tests because he can't hear his teacher, and all because nobody listened to Boris. Indeed the majority of the report is taken up by picking holes in the Airports Commission's data, debunking its conclusions and pleading with the government not to expand Heathrow.
Noise-wise, the first thing the Commission supposedly got wrong was not to model an expanded Heathrow consistent with today’s operations, and the second not to model a future two-runway scenario consistent with its three runway scenarios. It's all a bit technical, to be honest, but essentially Boris commissioned a new 'Alternative Future Baseline', and this proves that life would be a lot noisier under the pattern of flights he deems most likely. 46% more people would lie within the crucial 55dB Lden noise contour, including a significant number of people newly affected.
If you work for a media organisation who don't normally publish a news story until someone feeds it to you, then take a look at the map on page 34 of the report and see if you can wheedle a clickbait headline out of that. A red zone on the map indicates that residents of Wimbledon, Brentford, Acton, Ealing, Shepherd's Bush and Holland Park would suddenly find themselves affected by detrimental aircraft noise, under the new model, if a third runway goes ahead. Even the oligarchs in Kensington Palace Gardens would be affected, apparently, unless HEATHROW EXPANSION THREATENS PROPERTY PRICES AND MUST BE STOPPED... there, I've written it for you.
Long term health impacts would also cost billions. Boris argues that the DfT brought out brand new guidance shortly after the Commission's report was published, introducing factors for increased heart attacks and dementia, which might cost the NHS up to £25bn over 60 years. Equally rock solid predictions are made regarding air quality, which is never helped by belching jet fuel over built-up areas. This time new guidance from DEFRA's draft air quality action plan has caused recalculations to be made, with potentially disastrous consequences (says the man who scrapped the Western Congestion Charge Zone).
There is a real risk that, combined with increased aircraft emissions, locations on the A4 Bath Road near the third runway will witness increases of between 4 and 8μg/m³ NO2 - pushing concentrations above 40μg/m3 and so rendering the Greater London zone non-compliant.
Then there's the impact on transport. Road and rail links are forecast to be increasingly congested, the report says, with airport traffic clogging southwest London's roads and commuter services overflowing with luggage. More damningly it accuses the Commission's report of making inaccurate predictions regarding future mitigation, which would be far more costly than they suggested. Bus corridor enhancements, road maintenance costs and improved rail connections would land London with a massive £18bn bill, where the Commission had suggested merely £4bn.
What you might expect to see in a report of this size is a similarly detailed analysis of the alternatives. Not so. Gatwick gets a few pages of "it's not in a good place" and "it wouldn't be a proper hub", so is dismissed as an irrelevance. Instead the report suggests that an East-of-London hub airport is essential, be that at Stansted or in the Thames estuary, but fails to go into much detail. There is a fascinating map which purports to show a new direct rail link from Canary Wharf to Stansted, but no mention of this in the text, as if someone simply drew a straight-ish line in crayon. Similarly the transport map for an Inner Estuary airport indicates a mythical new connection from Waterloo to Barking Reach (construction of which would be wildly expensive and hugely disruptive), before continuing via High Speed 1 towards an ill-defined destination.
In summary, the report affirms that "the Airports Commission has overstated the economic benefits of Heathrow" and hence a third runway there must never go ahead. All the evidence about the potential alternatives is woolly and vague, but that's not the thrust here, which is a Heathrow hatchet job, pure and simple.
It is clear from the Airports Commission evidence presented that Heathrow expansion is wrong for the economy and wrong for the environment... If we are to secure the connectivity that meets the UK’s long-term economic need, then the only option is a four-runway hub.
And somebody at TfL got paid to write all this. As chair of TfL Boris can ask them to do what he likes, including (if you've noticed) a dedicated Aviation page on the TfL website. This features background information on the need for a London hub airport, assorted pro-Estuary airport propaganda and a survey where you can tell the Mayor how much you agree. This latest TfL report is simply a parting shot, before the next Mayor likely bins the lot.
Indeed, there's only one way an estuary airport might ever get built, and that's if the man with the big idea suddenly becomes the man in charge of it. But for that to happen would require blustering Boris Johnson to somehow become Prime Minister, a scenario so ridiculously unlikely that... oh, hang on. If the Brexit referendum splits the Tory party and David Cameron falls, his successor might just arrive in 10 Downing Street with all the donkey work for an estuary airport already complete. And if that's the case, then Boris's final publication before purdah might just be his most important.