For the sake of our children, don't build a third runway at Heathrow

West London from above. Image: Getty.

The Labour MP for Brentford & Isleworth, on why Heathrow has quite enough runways already thank you.

Under the last Labour government, the UK was a world leader on environmental issues. This is an area where we cannot shrink away from the world – we must play our part. We must remain committed to meeting our climate change targets, and this core principle of sustainability must guide decisions that are made on investment.

This is one of the key reasons why a third runway at Heathrow should not go ahead.

At the moment, aviation make up around 5 per cent of the UK’s emissions. Under the landmark 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK must reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This would mean a maximum level of emissions of 160 Mt of carbon in 2050. The independent Committee on Climate Change suggested that, in order to meet this target, aviation emissions should be no more than 37.5Mt per year – almost a quarter of the UK’s carbon budget in 2050.

Addressing the environmental impact of Heathrow does not simply mean talking in “parts per million” – it means talking honestly about the impact of the airport on the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people, and the 362 schools, that are directly affected by the airport.

A new runway would mean planes flying overhead for thousands of residents in my constituency – in Osterley, Brentford and Chiswick, who had not previously been directly underneath the flightpath. Other residents already underneath the flightpath for the existing runways would see their respite periods shortened from the current half a day.

Some 320,000 people – a population the size of Coventry – would be newly impacted by noise if a third runway was to go ahead.

The government will have to address the legal challenge of the air quality levels that already breach EU Air Quality limits. The measures outlined in the Davies commission’s report to bring airport pollution within the limits are simply unfeasible and unachievable. It would be careless to allow the construction of a third runway, but only on the condition that air quality targets were not breached. In reality, there is no real penalty in place if Heathrow breached those targets – you cannot ‘un-build’ the runway.

If it is deemed that any extra capacity is needed in the south-east, it should come at Gatwick. The issues with carbon targets would remain; but in another key environmental factor, quality of life, Gatwick would be streets ahead, with far few residents impacted by a new runway.

In the local context, there is no doubt that Heathrow is a major driver to the local economy. But here, between Central London and the Thames Valley/M4 silicon corridor the growing vibrant non-airport sectors struggle to compete for commercial floor-space, for staff at various skill levels and for space on our increasingly congested roads. 

Another runway at Heathrow will fuel pressures to expand even further, first with night flights, to be followed soon after by a fourth runway, whilst the UK’s other airports struggle to compete.

Heathrow is, and can continue to remain, Britain's premier airport providing jobs for tens of thousands of local people and the economic stimulus to West London – without needing another runway and more flights.

Ruth Cadbury is Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth. 

This article first appeared in the most recent edition of “New Ground” - the magazine published by SERA: Labour's Environment Campaign.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.