The Airports Commission has today (February 3) been criticised by environmental groups for “major gaps” in its evidence regarding potential air quality and noise impacts of building new runways at either Heathrow or Gatwick.
Three options have been shortlisted for airport capacity expansion in the UK – two at Heathrow and one at Gatwick – by the Airports Commission, an independent body tasked with making final recommendations in a report slated for summer 2015.
The Commission launched a report on the three options in November 2014 alongside a public consultation, which closes today (February 3). The report made no specific recommendations, but stated that all three options would require expansions to local road networks and would therefore have a negative impact on air quality (see airqualitynews.com story).
And, while the Airports Commission conceded that it has yet to complete full detailed modelling of the air quality impacts of each of the three expansion options, it said that there was nevertheless “sufficient evidential basis for consultees to express their views”.
However, responding to the consultation today (February 3), UK-based NGO the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) slammed the “gaping holes” in the Airport Commission’s analysis, which it said concealed “potential environmental disaster”.
“We are very disappointed that despite the thousands of pages of analysis the Commission has published on its short-listed proposals, the environmental analysis it committed to undertaking has not been finished in time. By its own admission, the Commission has not completed a detailed enough assessment of the impacts of a new runway either on air quality or on the cost of meeting national carbon commitments.”
The AEF added: “The environmental assessment presented so far is a patchwork of often damning, though incomplete, evidence about the impact of expansion, which could take place in areas described by the Commission as already suffering from ‘environmental stress’.”
As a result, the AEF is calling on political parties not to accept the Airport Commission’s recommendations “until all the relevant evidence has been gathered and made available for public scrutiny”.
Chaired by Sir Howard Davies, the Airports Commission forecasts that a third runway at Heathrow would cost £18.6 billion, extending the northern runway would cost £13.5bn, and a second Gatwick runway would cost £9.3bn.
Meanwhile, a London charity also criticised the Airports Commission’s failure to fully assess the air quality implications at the time it issued its consultation document.
The London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies (LFACS) – a charity established to improve the quality of life for people living, working or visiting Greater London – yesterday (February 2) responded to the consultation, stating that it “strongly opposes” any expansion of Heathrow Airport on air quality and noise impact grounds.
Instead, the charity said it prefers the option to build a second runway at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, as it believes “the delivery costs and the risks involved are substantially greater” for the Heathrow expansion options.
According to LFACS, the area around Heathrow already “has some of the worst air quality in the UK”, while the number of people potentially affected by noise from greater Gatwick capacity “is of an order of magnitude smaller”.
However, highlighting its concern regarding noise impacts from greater airport capacity, the charity said there were risks that aircraft will “not become as quiet as the Davies Commission assumes” and that environmental impacts “depend significantly on the detailed arrangements for controlling aircraft movements by the regulators”.
Also commenting on the airport expansion options, Green Party MEP for South East England, Keith Taylor, said he and fellow Green MEP for London Jean Lambert “question the need for expansion entirely”, adding that they had also finalised their full response to the Airports Commission consultation today.