Government must not approve Heathrow expansion unless airport agrees to meet environmental conditions, EAC says
The government must not give final approval to build a third runway at Heathrow unless the airport can demonstrate that it accepts and will comply with key air quality and noise conditions, an MP committee said today (December 1).
A decision from the government over whether or not to expand Heathrow or Gatwick airport is thought to be imminent, with the Prime Minister having said that an announcement will be made before the end of 2015.
The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, recommended in the summer that a third runway is built at Heathrow in West London, as long as certain environmental and air quality questions are addressed (see AirQualityNews.com story).
However, the Commission’s controversial recommendation has met with criticism from air quality campaigners and politicians amid concern that expanding Heathrow will lead to increased traffic around the airport in an area which is already in breach of EU nitrogen dioxide limits.
And, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has now also called on Heathrow Airport to demonstrate that it can reconcile expansion with legal air pollution limits while also showing at a larger Heathrow would be less noisy than it is at present.
In each case, the EAC said – on climate change, air quality and noise – the government needs to set out concrete proposals for mitigation alongside clear responsibilities and milestones against which performance can be measured.
The Committee raised concerns that the Commission’s interpretation of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive “implied that significant increases in NO2 resulting from Heathrow expansion would be allowable because of worse performance elsewhere in Londonâ€?.
It said that the government should therefore make clear that this is not the position it intends to take when assessing Heathrow’s compliance with the EU directive on air quality.
It follows an inquiry launched by the EAC in July 2015 into the possible air quality, carbon emission and noise impacts of possible Heathrow expansion (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Chair of the EAC, Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies, said: “The government has a duty to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in London to protect the health and well-being of its population. The communities living near to the roads around Heathrow already put up with noise and extra traffic, it would be quite unacceptable to subject them to a potentially significant deterioration in air quality as well. Increased pollution should certainly not be permitted on the grounds that other areas of London are even more polluted.â€?
Mr Irranca-Davies added: “To defer dealing with the environmental impact of a third runway would be irresponsible and could lead to legal challenges as a result of the potential damage to public health from increased air pollution and noise. If the government decides to accept the Commission’s recommendation for a third runway in principle, we will seek assurances from the Secretary of State for Transport that environmental conditions will be met before it is given final approval.â€?