Last Friday Debbie and I stood in silence at 9.15 am in Aberfan cemetery to mark the passing of 50 years since the coal tip disaster that wiped out so many innocent lives including her second cousin. Much has been written about this tragedy already which I won’t repeat here, save the observation that a government owned organisation called the National Coal board put growth and profits ahead of the real needs of the local population and disaster ensued after ignoring all the warning signs.
Move forward half a century and the news today is that the UK government has approved Heathrow airport’s third runway and I believe some of the lessons painfully learnt from Aberfan are being ignored and that it’s only a matter of time before an almost unimaginable disaster happens in or around London and the South East.
Having lived in Surrey & Middlesex for the past thirty years before moving to Wales last year, I witnessed a huge growth in air traffic over that time. Sadly in my previous working life I contributed personally to that growth with frequent national & international travel on business throughout which became the norm for me but which put an increasing strain on my health.
I never realised what an awful treadmill international travel was until I took a largely UK role and I did everything in my power afterwards to avoid flying wherever possible. Indeed I fell out of love with flying so much that most of our family holidays were firmly UK based until recently.
I also remember when Debbie was employed as a receptionist at Ashford Hospital back in 1995 she told me that as part of her induction management viewed another aircraft crash, as happened near Staines in June 1972 just 2 miles away from the hospital, was long overdue. Roll on 21 years and this prediction still hasn’t happened, but with forecasts of another 260,000 flights a year once the new runway is operational, I wonder how long before our luck runs out…
It was when the Icelandic volcano erupted in April 2010 and the volcanic ash cleared the skies above our old house in Thorpe for a week or so’s peace that I realised just how intrusive the aircraft noise from the flight paths over us had become, although nothing compared to that experienced over Windsor and Hounslow with aircraft overhead every 90 seconds at peak times.
I felt so incensed I wrote to Phillip Hammond our MP for his assurance that he wouldn’t support Heathrow expansion. At the time he was newly appointed defence secretary, having just left transport, but he wouldn’t commit to supporting his own constituents instead taking the line that the country’s needs would need to come first. As chancellor of the exchequer today he was part of the Economy and Industrial Strategy (Airports) cabinet subcommittee that rubber stamped today’s decision.
The other thing we noticed in Thorpe was the decreasing air quality over time, Debbie seemed to be using her asthma inhalers more frequently and yet she nearly always stopped using them when we went away on holiday. Our son Alex came to visit over the weekend with his fiancée Emily & they both remarked how clean the air round here seems as they live in South Norwood in inner London which seems a million miles away from our “escape” here in Llanfoist…
Of course I hear counter arguments of the need for continued globalisation, more jobs & growth, but take a moment of reflection dear readers and surely you’ll agree there’s got to be more to our lives than just that? How about making time to safely enjoy friends, family & colleagues at perhaps a slightly slower pace, isn’t that more important?