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Rob Gray: Thousands of local residents support Heathrow airport; it's time their voice was heard

Rob_Gray_2Rob Gray explains why he is leading a new local community campaign – Back Heathrow - to give a voice to the thousands of residents who support Heathrow expansion.

The debate over Heathrow expansion is too often seen through the prism of national vs. local – the national economic interest colliding with the views of local residents who are often painted as a uniform block opposing expansion at the UK’s international hub airport.

Recent polling from Populus gives the lie to this caricature.  The poll of a representative sample of more than 6,000 local residents showed more people in the communities around the airport back Heathrow than oppose it.  It showed that 60 per cent of residents feel positive towards Heathrow compared to just 6 per cent who feel negatively.  Two-thirds of the local residents polled said that the benefits of Heathrow outweigh the disadvantages for their community.

For too long, these voices – the local residents who support Heathrow - have been the silent majority in the debate on Heathrow’s future.

A total of 114,000 jobs are dependent on Heathrow airport – jobs that are now at risk from the Mayor’s plans for a new hub airport to the east.  This threat is real and growing.  Boris Johnson has himself admitted that his plans would mean the closure of Heathrow – an outcome that would be devastating for the West London economy and for the businesses and residents who rely on Heathrow for their livelihoods. People have compared this threat to Britain’s worst ever mass redundancies with job losses greater than the closure of our car factories and the pit closures put together.

Under the Mayor’s plans, the choice is not between a third runway at Heathrow or no third runway.  It’s between a third runway at Heathrow or no Heathrow at all.

It is why now is the time for a more balanced local debate on Heathrow’s future.   This week a new community campaign to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of residents whose jobs and businesses depend on Heathrow has got off the ground.

Voices like local businessman, Neil Martin, from Parker Car Service in Isleworth who says: 

“Everybody in this area benefits from the airport whether it be a local greengrocer or a big company.  Where I was born in Feltham, everybody worked at the airport whether they worked for a cleaning company, a catering company, a transport company or for one of the airlines.  It means so much for the local economy.”

Voices like Sarita Sudera, a Security Officer at the airport, who has added her voice to the campaign, saying:

“I have many friends at the airport and a lot of friends whose children or parents work there so it’s a lot about generations.  Heathrow is our community, I can’t imagine what would happen if it wasn’t there.”

These are the voices that have been overlooked in the current aviation debate and which the Back Heathrow campaign has been established to mobilise.  A new website,, has been launched for the campaign, and over 400,000 tabloid-style newspapers are being delivered to local communities, surrounding the airport.

The national case for Heathrow has always been clear.  A third runway at Heathrow is the quickest and most cost-effective route to solve the challenge of the UK’s hub capacity.  Capacity constraints at Heathrow – which has been virtually full for a decade – are cutting the UK off from the global growth opportunities in emerging markets.  We are missing out on £14bn of lost trade as a result.  Over the next ten years Heathrow is set to fall behind competitors hub airports in France and Germany who do have the spare capacity.  Put simply, we are letting France and Germany eat our lunch.

The urgency of this challenge has seen a national coalition of support – leading airlines, businesses and the trades unions – come together to lend their support to the case for Heathrow expansion.  To these national voices, we are now beginning the process of adding the voices of the local residents who support their hub airport.

Back Heathrow believes that local jobs and businesses at Heathrow are worth fighting for. It’s time to give people who agree a voice in that debate.  It’s time to back Heathrow.


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