Heathrow Airport: to expand or not to expand, that is the question. The debate can begin in earnest, as today Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly laid out options for consultation, including a potential third runway and sixth terminal.
With Terminal 5 not even finished yet, it may seem premature to be discussing more construction work, but the Government stressed that it would take until 2020 for a new runway and terminal to be operational. Kelly highlighted the strict environment and noise limits that are now in place, and hinted that cleaner, quieter jets would allow Heathrow to expand to 702,000 take-offs and landings annually (up from 480,000 today) with minimal impact by 2030. The same can't be said for surrounding areas: as if to underscore the rampant, Death Star-like power of the aviation industry, it was noted that the new terminal would require the "destruction" of the 1,000-year old village of Sipson. Gulp.
It's a thorny issue. On one side, the world's least favourite airport, is in dire need of help. Serving some of the world's busiest airways, Heathrow copes with many times the number of passengers it was designed for, and snarling lines of irate, exhausted, tempestuous passengers make the airport resemble the West London circle of Dante's Inferno. And that's on a good day.
On the other hand, climate change is now (finally) acknowledged as an impending reality, and as air travel is a serial offender, do we really want to be contributing to even more CO2 emissions from aircraft over our already polluted land? The campaigners who hit Heathrow in the summer hinted at the depth of feeling amongst the population about untrammelled airport expansion. Then there's the damage to the surrounding area - although things here are perhaps less clear-cut, as surveys have indicated that over 50% of local residents support a third runway.
Whichever way, the consultation process, which runs until February 27th, is sure to provoke heated debate.
Those with a keen interest in these types of things can see projected noise footprints for the expansion here
Image from parudox's Flickrstream