London, Heathrow airport will be expanded amid environmental and health concerns

Dopo anni di dibattiti e battaglie, Londra amplierà l’aeroporto di Heathrow. Una scelta che sembra negativa per l’ambiente, la salute e non solo.

The government has approved the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, the city’s first airport in west London, at an estimated cost of 17.6 billion pounds (19.6 billion euros). Despite the city of London boasts five airports, the project will allow creating the first full-length runway in the south-east since the Second World War.

Heathrow or Gatwick?

After years of debate, the government has opted to expand Heathrow rather than Gatwick, the second airport in south London that hoped to build a second runway. It took three years of researches and assessments (at a cost of 20 million pounds) for the Airports Commission, led by London School of Economics Director Sir Howard Davies, to announce the decision to expand Heathrow.

The project’s environmental impact

However, the environmental consequences are too often overlooked. Many have railed against the decision, including London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who made it clear that he supported the expansion at Gatwick airport over environmental concerns.

Khan has explained that air and noise pollution in some areas near Heathrow are above safety levels already. The situation can only get worse as the expansion will bring 260,000 more flights a year.

569 hectares of land will be wiped out

The government has pledged not to build new infrastructures if environmental standards aren’t met and has announced the launch of a series of offset initiatives. Nevertheless, 569 hectares of land including the city’s greenbelt – 400 hectares of green areas – will be used for the expansion.

The project will also involve the demolition of some 800 houses and will imply higher costs for taxpayers due to infrastructural adjustments to transports to the airport. Among other works, a stretch of the six-lane M25 motorway will be tunnelled, as long as the third runway won’t be built over the M25. Moreover, an incinerator will be moved elsewhere and an alluvial plain will be damaged, compromising its purpose of handling with floods.

Londra, ampliamento aeroporto Heathrow. Scelta sbagliata per ambiente e salute © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)
London’s Heathrow airport will be expanded. The choice will affect the environment and people’s health. © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Heathrow airport expansion is not convincing

Compared to Heathrow, estimations show that an expansion at Gatwick airport would have had half the construction costs (7.6 billion pounds), reduced public investments, faster construction times and a lower environmental impact (167 buildings demolished against 783). Moreover, buried government figures have revealed that the economic benefits of expanding Heathrow airport were overstated by up to 86 billion pounds, virtually the same benefits as expanding Heathrow.

Taking all advantages offered by Gatwick airport into consideration, some have claimed that Sir Howard’s decision is unfair and prejudicial. Gatwick airport is thus considering legal action along with residents and environmental associations.

Air pollution is one of the main challenges the government is facing. Unfortunately, increasing air transport won’t help in this fight and expanding Heathrow airport will turn out to be an unbearable burden to areas already significantly affected.

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