Heathrow Airport has almost 1300 incoming and outgoing flights daily with this forecast to increase in coming years. Building a third runway would help relieve pressure on the infrastructure however there is some opposition to the idea. There has been constant argument for and against if a third runway should be accepted. This article will present the cases for both sides of the argument from a socio-political and ethical point of view.
Expansion is better for the greater good
With the UK’s airports set to be ‘completely full’ in 20 years, the government has begun looking into solutions to increase air capacity, including a third runway at Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport. The inclusion of various groups in the decision making process has been vital; with the main stakeholders including airport authorities, the local council, the government, and local residents who will be impacted. While it is true that local residents lives may be negatively affected by the project due to noise pollution and relocations, on a macro scale, the benefits of job creation and stronger international trade links could outweigh these inconveniences for the few, benefiting the many.
With the uncertainty of Brexit looming, a report by Cebr explains how strengthening Heathrow is now more important than ever to ensure that the trade facilitated by the airport is safeguarded and strengthened; progressing the UK’s position as a key player in worldwide commerce. The UK’s political power depends upon its trade links with other countries, and the importance of transportation and trade hubs should not be underplayed. Heathrow’s prime positioning in the UK presents it as the ideal airport to expand.
Initially, the cost of the project was predicted to be very high, leading to considerable scepticism towards proposals, however a recent proposal from the Arora Group potentially shaving £7 billion off the total cost has been backed by British Airways, who operate Heathrow’s terminal 5 exclusively. With this review implemented, the long term cost effectiveness of the project looks more promising.
A report commissioned by the Department of Transport claims the northwest runway scheme will create around 114,000 jobs and 5000 apprenticeships for the larger area by 2030. The report also led on to explain how “expansion at Heathrow Airport is expected to result in larger benefits to the wider economy than expansion at Gatwick Airport”. The UK needs a greater airport capacity and all expansion plans will have a negative effect on the chosen airport’s local community. If one of these local communities is to be affected, would it not be better to justify the negatives by choosing the project that will yield the best benefits for those affected?
Ethically, in determining whether going ahead with the development is morally correct, one must focus on the long term effects and benefits to society instead of getting caught up in the negative short term effects, under the concept of utilitarianism. Doubters have already been convinced of the need for this expansion, through highlighting positive arguments for the project, rather than having the change forced upon them. A certain level of Kant’s duty-based ethics applies here, as the project must be conducted according to the relevant standards and laws.
Expansion isn’t worth it
Many people are not convinced by the argument put forward thus far. Key stakeholders in the project present strong arguments against the case, with multiple independent sources verifying these claims.
First and foremost, the local residents affected may experience devastating impacts to their lives, from both the construction and operation of a third runway. Three historic villages under the footprint of the third runway will be destroyed, with citizens being forcibly relocated. This can be an upsetting and stressful experience; Imagine your own childhood home and neighbourhood being entirely wiped off the map. Meanwhile, areas which are spared from being reduced to rubble will be left metres from the deafening rumble of aircraft engines – including a 600-year-old grade I listed heritage site and an 11th Century Church.
Residents of neighbouring areas will also be affected by increased pressure on the infrastructure they rely upon: congestion will worsen, and stress on already overwhelmed public transportation systems would only build. With infrastructure costs for TfL expected at £16bn, on top of the £14bn price tag for the project itself, UK tax payers will be picking up the bill for the expansion. Residents outside of the South-East will see their hard earned tax money supporting this project, while gaining virtually no direct benefits.
Local air quality will become more hazardous. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell illustrated that the project will never go ahead due to the inability to meet air quality regulations with the extra flights rom a third runway. Last year nitrogen dioxide levels in areas within 2km of Heathrow rose to almost the EU limit of 40 micrograms/square metre and in some instances exceeded this limit.
Due to the nature of the project, Kant’s theory is important: making sure the law and relevant regulations are adhered to, mitigating risk of incurring fines and criminal charges against the authorities with regards to rising pollution levels. With emissions laws already being violated, Kant’s theory would suggest that the project should not be approved and the authorities should be focussing on how to reduce emissions instead.
Should local residents be expected to suffer even more every day for a resource that most residents of the South-East would rarely even use? Protests against expansion have gained notable exposure, press coverage and support from the general public, causing disruption to Heathrow and reputation damage. A level of care and virtue ethics must be applied when discussing the expansion with opposers and protesters. Their views and concerns must be taken into account to provide the decision makers with a complete picture, allowing them to make the most informed judgement.