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Charm offensive leaves public sceptical on third runway

The government invited the public to come and talk about its proposals for a third runway at Heathrow last week. NCE visited the exhibition to gauge public reaction.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS were of false smiles on the strained faces of the 30 or so besuited officials who were talking to members of the public about proposals to build a 2km runway within whooshing distance of their back gardens.

Traumatised residents were offered 'real' facts in a bid to allay their fears that a third Heathrow runway will bring shattering disruption to their lives.

Big boards displayed diagrams, maps and bullet pointed information about the layout of the new runway, and its likely impact on noise and air quality.

The visual effect was impressive, with touch screen computer presentations. Well groomed young men from Arup, AEA technology and the Civil Aviation Authority among others, who have helped the Department for Transport work up plans, were ready to explain points of detail. Visitors were also gingered up with CD Roms and placatory documents on compensation for blight.

But what about the content of the exhibition? Anticipated noise contours were shown in squiggly red lines around the south east. The lines stretch as far east as Hammersmith in London and as far west as Windsor, although no members or equerries of the Royal Family were spotted at the hotel.

Only an extra 7km 2, home to 30,000 people, will be affected by noise as a result of a third runway, we were told. An advisor from the Civil Aviation Authority said technological advancements that are making aircraft quieter will limit the amount of noise pollution.

But there was dissent. 'I don't believe what they say about areas that will remain under 57 decibels, ' said Geoff Kirk, retired, of nearby Hanworth.

'You can't put another runway in at Heathrow and say its not going to have a major impact on noise.'

Furrowed brows then turned to the board on air quality. There was 'considerable uncertainty, approximations and simplifications' about levels of nitrogen dioxide from plane movements and road traffic increases generated by the third runway, said a chap from AEA technology. But he claimed that if air quality did not meet EU standards the project would not go ahead.

On layout residents complained that not enough detail was supplied. Many who spoke to NCE were still distressed because they didn't know whether theirs would be one of the 260 homes that will need to be demolished.

Paul Coldman, a road haulier, and Julie Sargeant, a customer service manager, who live in nearby Harmonsworth, came to talk about their property but did not know who to talk to. 'We thought our house would be compulsorily purchased. Now we've found out that we might be on the edge. Today has posed more questions than answers.'

INFOPLUS www. airconsult.co.uk

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