Anti-Heathrow Demonstrators

3rd Runway At Heathrow, Benefiting The Many At The Expense Of The Few?

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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.

Proposed Heathrow Expansion Graphic
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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.

24 thoughts on “3rd Runway At Heathrow, Benefiting The Many At The Expense Of The Few?

  1. With in excess of 78% of the UK being undeveloped, it seems that such an invasive project may well be better served elsewhere in either an undeveloped area near a big economic hub or equally in an empoverished region in need of gentrification. In any case, compulsory purchases should be made far in excess of market value and with sufficient time to see through the lives of elderly residents (and to allow for timely and relaxed relocation).

  2. The UK’s connectivity and long term economic growth is important, however the environment is also a key concern here, as we need a create a sustainable future.

  3. The article is very well written and informative. Brings up good points about the negatives/benefits of the runway and doesn’t favour either side.

  4. “UK’s airports set to be ‘completely full’ in 20 years” – will we have enough aviation fuel in 20 years time? (Or am I reading too many Peak Oil conspiracy web-sites?)

    ” 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?” – a good point. Ethically how does this stand? Utilitarianism?

    “the project will never go ahead due to the inability to meet air quality regulations with the extra flights from a third runway.” This and other arguments are interesting. Certainly the increased demand on the infrastructure needs to be considered.

    You say: “Kant’s theory would suggest that the project should not be approved” why does Kant’s theory suggest this?

    Similarly, ” A level of care and virtue ethics must be applied when discussing the expansion with opposers and protesters.” Please expand these points, explaining what insights/justifications these theories provide.

    1. Thanks for your comments, very thought provoking indeed. We would like to respond to some of your comments.

      “will we have enough aviation fuel in 20 years time?” – this is a very interesting point. We think that the strength of this argument is weakened by a key factor that wasn’t outlined in the article. Demand for air travel is so strong and high value that aircraft manufacturers are looking towards investing in a future beyond fossil fuels- This only supports the ‘for’ argument as the environmental issues are predicted to soften but demand for infrastructure still grows.

      “a good point. Ethically how does this stand? Utilitarianism?” Ethically, the for argument for this point would be Utilitarianism depending on what maxim of Utilitarianism is followed. However Hedonistic Utilitarianism would support the decision that supports the greatest net happiness for all concerned. This is hard to quantify as local residents would bear such a large pain and discomfort of a reduction in the quality of their life, to promote an arguable negligible benefit to the many or improved happiness- see

      “why does Kant’s theory suggest this [the project should not be approved]?” Ignoring potential benefits and consequences of expansion, current Laws are being broken with regards to air quality levels, Kant’s theory would suggest that a measure of bringing balance back to the situation where the law is not broken should be introduced first. Kant believed that humans are morally obligated to act in accordance with a set of principles and agreed rules regardless of outcome and in this situation rules have been broken, making it ethically wrong from a deontological point of view.

  5. Expansion of infrastructure is a lengthy and arduous process, particularly for a project of this scale. As such, the damage to local communities and sites of historical significance shouldn’t be ignored just for the sake of slightly larger profit margins. Given that economic growth and employment opportunities are the main benefits of this project, it appears entirely feasible that the plans could be better implemented elsewhere. If anything, with regards to strengthening international trade links, improving the UK’s airport capacity in another region would suggest there is more to the country’s global brand than just London.

  6. Well written article, covering an interesting topic for the engineering community.

    The argument in favour of the expansion is particularly strong as it can draw heavily on the utilitarian argument which often holds strong when evaluating large infrastructure projects such as bridges or airports, which have wide reaching benefits but negative local impacts. It would be interesting to see another framework being tested in this example, which could provide further value to the discussion.

    The argument against the airport expansion is definitely valid when focusing on the specifics of the Heathrow project such as the historic village destruction. However with the expansion of UK capacity clearly necessary, some of the points highlighted are quite generic when arguing against expansion. For example, stating that the project would be poor value to tax payers outside the locality can be said about any airport project. It can also be countered with the trickle down effect of the better export links and wider economic benefits experienced across the country delivered by more efficient air transport.

    Overall a great article considering the limited word count and raised interesting questions about a vital part of the UK infrastructure.

  7. Interesting read and good expansion on the points you gave.
    However, some things to think about peheraps?

    • residents that will be relocated will be compensated – whilst it’s still not great, the government is trying
    • paying tax is not directly proportional with individual benefits – if I pay higher tax, I don’t see more benefits in any way
    • no figure for projected revenue that the runway is supposed to generate – revenue is important for the government, is there any external projected figures? If so, what are they based on and how accurate is it?

  8. Very well written article with interesting points stated.

    In my opinion, I believe that third runway is a must project that needs to be completed. Projections for UK economy after Brexit at the moment seems very bleak with many organisations considering relocating to EU countries. Projects like this would help to boost the economy and possibly attract new international companies to invest in UK. I believe that environmental impact can be solved with income that is going to come with a new runway and completion of the project should be a priority for the future of UK economy.

  9. This was a very interesting and thought-provoking article. Whilst I acknowledge the problems that an extra runway will cause, the benefits and the societal need for improvement in such an uncertain economic climate cannot be ignored.

    With any major technological step forward, there will always be problems. I agree with the application of the utilitarianism theory: the runway should go ahead as the positives will outway the negatives

  10. Well balanced debate on an interesting issue, which has strong points from both sides.

    This is a interesting topic for me, as I personally live very close to Heathrow airport, directly under the flight path, and have seen the effects it has first hand on the local area. Although yes it can be a nuisance to have thousands of planes rumbling over your roof every single day, I think the hub does alot of beneficial implications for the wider area around me. I know many people who were employed at heathrow airport, with fuffiling jobs across all the sectors. There are numerous travel links which have been created in effect from the airport, with a number of great bus lines I used to use daily implemented for heathrow (with special baggage storage facilities), alongside better trainline connectivity and better access into london with the extension of the picadilly line. Seeing this, I believe expanding the hub could have great benefits to the wider local area.

    Further, when I was younger I did a ‘BBC school report’ program studying the topic, visiting the village of Sipson which would be demolished for the runway expansion. Even then, probably around 2010, I saw that the village was dying and learnt that those being moved were well compensated. Surely the concept of utilitarianism stands strong here, and it is only fair that some will have to make due compromise to allow for wider benefits for all?

    I have flown numerous times from all of London’s airports, and Heathrow is by far the most convenient to fly from, and if expanded, flights may become cheaper, and more accessible for all Londoners. The fact that Stansted, Luton, and Gatwick are ‘London’ airports to me is quite amusing considering the distance you have to travel to them. It seems that if any were to be expanded, it would only make sense to expand Heathrow first.

  11. This is a well structered argument, which considers both for and against building the 3rd Heathrow runway. Personally, I find the Utilitarian argument (the greatest good for the greatest number) more convincing, due to the vast number of jobs available for the surrounding community. I believe this outweighs the negations of the build, as the community are benefiting individually,if they choose to apply, whilst also helping the economy flourish.

  12. I think it can be very easy to argue the Corbyn Case when you are not the few. If I were asked to move out of your family home and neighbourhood just to make room for a runway I would be pretty angry and upset.

    I agree with previous comments made on this post in that, yes, this would create lots of jobs and be good for the economy, but there are many places in much more need of an economy boost than London. Further, there are probably more remote areas this could be implemented in such that it does not interfere with peoples lives.

    I think if it does get to a point where airports are overrun, which it inevitably will, people who wish to utilise them will make the extra effort to travel to a further away airport that does not take part in kicking people out of their homes.

  13. There are good points raised in this article. I understand why there is a need to expand the UK’s air capacity, but I don’t believe it needs to be Heathrow airport. Heathrow airport is the only UK airport where pollution levels remain above EU limits, and with the addition of a third runway, the pollution from planes and associated transport in the area would only increase. Alongside this, I have heard it has the largest noise footprint out of any European airport – affecting the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. An airport situated in a more rural area should be developed instead. The transport links in the area are already overloaded, why add to the problem?

  14. I think it is a joke that the government want to put so much money into a project benefitting the rich while hundreds of UK citizens struggle to put food on their plate. This is a classic example of the UK’s leadership having their priorities in all the wrong places, with the flight path travelling over some poor areas where communities struggle to have their voices heard.

  15. I think the benefits in terms of job creation and the importance of a growing the economy post Brexit is significant enough to warrant the expansion.

    Yes the change would have large negative effectives on many families but I’m sure they would be well compensated in the event of a relocation. The argument over poorer air quality seems weak in what is already a heavily polluted region surely it can’t get much worse.

  16. Interesting arguments put forward, I do think that a third runway at Heathrow may only be a short term fix to a problem that will persist into the future indefinitely. Hypothetically, if a third runway was implemented, how many decades would it be before Heathrow reaches maximum capacity again and another runway is needed?

    Perhaps there is a more revolutionary idea such as a completely new mode of air transport that would provide a long term solution to this problem of airport capacity?

  17. Well after writing out a long comment only to have the CAPTCHA tick to turn green but my comment to be rejected, let me summarise…

    I’m far more persuaded by the utilitarian arguments made.

    Having just two runways creates negative impacts in two ways. The huge, ever increasing, number of flights that come into Heathrow and it’s two airports leads to greater chances of accidents with so many aircraft circling above and taxiing below. Clearly adding another runway would provide expansion for more flights in returning to the same level of throughput, but not so fast enough to help predict and look for additional airport capacity when the time comes. Also with exit from the single market looking likely, the UK should be looking to strengthen it’s global trade links where possible, and larger international transport hubs near London will help here.

    Whilst a few will be harmed, and compensated, the many (including those few) will gain in the longer run.

  18. Let’s face it, catching a flight from Heathrow is a somewhat less harrowing experience than from Stanstead or Luton so, as long as we think in terms of London airports, I think it makes sense to pump more money into LHR and – more importantly – , the community around it, who would benefit greatly from the new job opportunities. Also, wherever else we might look to improve airport capacity in the UK, there will always be some unfortunate villages in danger of being wiped off the map, and whilst their residents will understandably fight for them with their last blood, it is quite refreshing to hear the arguments of those who look over those pretty hedges and consider the bigger picture too. Thanks for an insightful and impartial article.

  19. The article presents both sides of the argument very clearly however expansion of the problem through other ethical theories could be implemented. I have driven through the village of Sipson and it looks dated. Although this isn’t a reason to destroy it, I can only imagine that its residents would only see benefits of moving away from there. For this reason I believe the expansion is a good thing and that comment about the ‘benefits for the many at the expense of the few’ is valid, however this expense isn’t as grave as it is played out to be.

  20. I think a certain level of virtue ethics should be looked at here as a good comprise between the two arguments. If claims that new aircraft will bring down the air emissions of aircraft enough so that it is not a major factor then a different approach can be taken in order to maintain some of the needs of both parties. This will inevitably bring great trade for those stakeholders (such as the government) through increased trade and economic benefits. One solution could be to try and convince the local residents of the benefits as you said, or you could actively look to put in place schemes such as free soundproofing triple glazing or plan to offer to create as many green spaces with tress as possible to try offset the local environmental issues (virtue ethics). The success of this project depends on the buy on of local residents, just because their voices are not as loud as profit driven multi-million-pound CEOs of airlines/companies doesn’t mean they should be neglected for the small benefit of the many. Arguably the real benefit is for the few (shareholders of H.A.L, airlines and construction companies)

  21. A really interesting read, highlighting some really key points. I think introducing the idea of NIMBYism by prompting the reader to ‘imagine (their) own childhood home and neighbourhood being entirely wiped off the map’ really forces consideration of the duty ethics argument against the expansion.

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