ADDING CAPACITY AT HEATHROW AIRPORT
The Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies consists of the national amenity societies which by law must be notified of all applications that involve the demolition of listed buildings in England and Wales. It also includes the Civic Trust and the Garden History Society which must be consulted over certain works to historic gardens and landscapes. This response is the collective view of the Joint Committee, though individual societies may also be submitting their own more specific comments.
• The consultation starts from a clear presumption in favour of further expansion at Heathrow. The Aviation White Paper in 2002 asked if it was possible to expand the airport’s capacity while minimising environmental damage. In the case of the extraordinary potential damage to the heritage we said confidently that it was not. This remains our view. Indeed this disastrous outcome is now worse than in 2002 because of the proposed sixth terminal – the need for which was categorically denied at the time. The Heritage Impact Assessment in the consultation document acknowledges that additional capacity “would generate high adverse impact on heritage”.
• We are very concerned by possible damage - both direct and indirect - to the 102 listed buildings, monuments, archaeological sites, historic settlements and landscapes identified in the consultation that could result from the proposed construction of a third runway, sixth terminal and associated taxiways, roads and ancillary structures. The lack of detailed information on the precise siting of the runway and related developments because they are “indicative” is particularly worrying as a variation could easily increase the risk to sensitive areas.
• The sheer scale of the possible damage to sound, legally protected, historic buildings and sites at Heathrow (as at Stansted) is without postwar precedent, and should be wholly unacceptable as it would be under any other commercial or private development.
• Under planning law proposals for the demolition of listed buildings or those seriously affecting scheduled sites are normally only granted consent under exceptional circumstances; and almost never when the building is in a sound condition as is the case of those identified as at risk.
• Many of the existing buildings and structures, particularly those in Sipson, that are likely to be affected will not be listed but nevertheless form a valuable part of the overall historic environment.
• The scope for ameliorating the effect on the historic environment by dismantling and re-erecting a small proportion of the most important buildings is extremely limited, and will almost always be both technically and philosophically highly problematical. It is not a serious option and should form no part of the discussions.
• The historic environment is a finite resource that cannot be renewed once it is lost. It is wholly wrong to sacrifice buildings that may be 800 years old for the comparatively short term expansion of an activity that is unsustainable in the long term.
• The whole basis of the proposals is misconceived - that of uncontrolled growth in demand for air travel, and commercial pressure from airlines and airports for further unjustifiable expansion. We believe many of the arguments for unchecked expansion put forward are weak.
• Even if a case for further expansion could be made, it is quite clear that Heathrow is in the wrong location. It would be a terrible betrayal of future generations to jeopardize the ancient settlements in the vicinity by a short sighted compounding the original mistake.
• The proposals for a third runway in the RUCATSE report of 1993 were rejected principally because of the environmental damage they would have caused. The latest proposals are just as serious for the historic environment (and more so in some locations) and should also be rejected. The Government should be thinking more radically about proper longterm solutions that do not depend on destroying our precious heritage.
3. Heathrow’s Historic Environment
(i) The area to the north of Heathrow is a quite remarkable and special historic survival so close to the centre of London and engulfed by more recent development. It also includes individual historic buildings of great importance, including one - Harmondsworth barn - which is one the finest examples anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is an area rich in historic interest that merits special measures to protect its sensitivity. Instead we have proposals that would jeopardise most of its historic value, and which would be unthinkable if any equivalent form of commercial or private development were proposed.
(ii) The consultation rightly recognizes that the current airport site and the proposed area of expansion lie within an area of high archaeological importance, with human activity dating from prehistoric times. The pattern of landscape and settlement probably changed little from the Mediaeval to post-Mediaeval period. In spite of the growth of surrounding suburbia, an extraordinary semi-rural enclave still survives. The proposed expansion would lead to substantial archaeological disturbance, the Heritage Impact Assessment concedes, and could affect 38 undesignated sites within the smaller study area. The maximum area of expansion contains an additional 32 sites, while a further 55 lie in the wider corridor, as do three scheduled ancient monuments.
(iii) The consultation refers to 102 listed buildings within the study area, though the document is factually wrong in referring to the churches affected by their former alphabetical listings. The two most significant churches at risk – Harlington and Harmondsworth – were relisted as Grade I and Grade II* respectively some years ago. We hope that similar mistakes have not been made elsewhere.
(iv) Because the location of the third runway, sixth terminal and associated taxiways and ancillary works are only “indicative” the four listed buildings said to be facing complete demolition are not identified. However they would appear to be three in Sipson, including a former Mediaeval hall house, now the King William IV pub; and neighbouring Lanz farmhouse, a late 17th or early 18th century timber framed house revamped in the 19th century. A listed but much altered late 18th century house would also seem to be doomed. To these must be added 700 other properties in Sipson which are to be erased to make way for the new terminal. Several of these are unlisted but are of clear historic interest.
(v) The most important casualty of the third runway is likely to be the tower, if not the whole, of Grade I listed St Peter’s Church, Harlington. This lies immediately underneath the main approach to the proposed runway. The recent crash landing of a Boeing aircraft short of an existing runway emphasizes its vulnerability. St Peter’s is a Norman church, with 14th century chancel, 15th century tower and 16th century porch. The churchyard is famed for its yew trees and tombs, one of which is listed in its own right. Though Harlington falls just outside the indicative boundary of the airport the new M4 spur road threatens several listed buildings which would be uncomfortably close to it. Most at risk is likely to be Elder farmhouse, identified in the list description as 16th century or earlier with an 18th century front, and slightly further away the Pheasant pub, also Grade II, and listed as 18th century.
(vi) Harmondsworth at the west end of the site is a wholly unexpected survival, an almost secret remnant of an historic Middlesex agricultural enclave, now marooned among suburban sprawl and marginal farming. As well as the Grade II* Norman church, it is renowned for one of the finest 12 bay tithe barns in the country, a scheduled ancient monument, with its surrounding former Manor farmhouse and farmbuildings. Other listed buildings in danger include the early 18th century Harmondsworth Hall; the Grange of 1675; the 17th century Five Bells Inn; 16th century Sun House; The Crown (18th century); The Gable Stores (19th century); a K6 telephone box; Acacia House of 1725; the 19th century former Vicarage, and the handsome brick Lodge. Unlike previous plans the proposed runway will now be sited just north of Harmondsworth, missing it by a short distance. In theory this will permit the central core of the hamlet to survive, recognizing its historic importance and value. But the eastern end will be wiped out (22 per cent of the conservation area) with the demolition of one listed building. The plan is unclear but the most likely candidate seems to be a house of about 1600. But demolitions aside it is hard to see how any of the remaining buildings will be usable or have any sort of sustainable future because of their proximity to the runway. The noise alone will make them untenable. Accidental damage will always be a concern.
(vii) Apart from the areas close to the airport it is important to remember the consequences for other historic buildings and sites on the new flight paths resulting from an extra runway. Buildings of supreme importance such as Chiswick House will find it increasingly hard to operate as a public heritage site because of the huge increase in noise from low flying aircraft.
3. Listed building/Scheduled monument consent
(i) Air travel is a commercial operation and the pressure for expansion has come from airlines
and airport operators. In any other circumstances listed building or scheduled monument
applications to damage large sections of statutorily protected heritage assets for commercial
gain would be rejected out of hand, and rightly so. Consent is almost never given for
demolition of buildings that retain their historic integrity and interest.
(ii) In addition dozens of unlisted older buildings within conservation areas, or which are
integral parts of the local historic environment, appear to be in danger and should not be
seen as dispensible.
(iii) Noise and other forms of pollution are likely to jeopardise the continued use of and care for many more historic buildings over a much wider area. Blighted by airport expansion, the future of previously much loved structures in the vicinity may be put in doubt, with the erosion of their historic character and possible deterioration as the longterm outcome. This largely falls outside the planning system but over time this insidious process can be as destructive as more direct threats.
Reference has been made in previous plans to the possibility of relocating some of the listed buildings facing outright demolition - the implication being that if the most important ones can be "saved" by this method, the loss of others may be acceptable. We reject this most strongly, and suggest it would be wholly mistaken to regard this as a serious answer to the heritage threat.
Relocation can take two forms - the most technically difficult, expensive and least common is by undermining the building and lifting it whole to a new site. What is much more usually meant is dismantling the building and re-erecting a replica using a proportion of the materials salvaged from the original. On the face of it this may seem easier with timber-framed buildings, but the loss of historic fabric and identity is inevitable however carefully it is done. Equally important is the removal of the structure from its historic context and setting, inevitably destroying the link between it and its historic site, and in the process seriously diminishing its value and interest.
5. The Need for Radical Thinking
The Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies must leave judgments about the real need for airport expansion and the best ways of achieving a sensible transport policy to those better qualified to do so. However we would like to make the following points:
(i) In rejecting all the runway options that result in serious damage to heritage assets we are not
opposing the need for economic development. Rather we urge the Government to think
more radically about more imaginative ways of creating a long term, sustainable transport
policy that is achievable without destroying large numbers of historic buildings and sites in
(ii) The absurdity of using "predict and provide" as a basis for planning transport policy is self-
evident and does not need arguing. It also seems clear that completely unchecked growth in
air travel bears far too high an environmental price. The Government should acknowledge
the need for some control - whether through fiscal measures, the reduction in subsidies, the
rationing of airport capacity, or in other ways.
The UK's historic building, monuments, sites and landscapes are a finite and constantly eroding resource. We must value them and protect them. Their loss should not be seen as the inevitable consequence of progress. Once lost they cannot be recovered. The Consultation Document concedes the scale of the damage to the heritage resulting from the proposal. The Government should recognise that this is too high a price to pay, and think again.