But government has asserted that further airport capacity is still needed in South East England, whether at Heathrow or Gatwick
The government has opted to carry out a further assessment of possible air quality and environmental impacts before making a final decision next year over whether to expand either Heathrow or Gatwick airport.
The delay means continued uncertainty over future UK airport capacity, which has angered both anti-runway campaigners as well as pro-expansion business groups. It also means a decision will now come after next Mayâ€™s London Mayoral election, for which air quality and Heathrow are major issues.
Following a meeting of several cabinet members last night (December 10), the Department for Transport (DfT) said it wanted to carry out â€œmore work on environmental impactsâ€ of possible airport expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick â€“ work which it expects to conclude next summer.
This work will also look at developing â€œthe best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environmentâ€, with the government stating that it â€œexpects the airports to put forward ambitious solutionsâ€ to environmental concerns such as air pollution.
The delay comes despite the Prime Minister David Cameron previously asserting that a final decision would be made before the end of 2015.
However, the government has now asserted that more capacity is needed in the South East, suggesting that it will opt for either Heathrow or Gatwick expansion, rather than no expansion at all.
Set up by the government in 2012 to report on UK airport capacity, the independent Airports Commission recommended in July that a third runway should be constructed at the North side of Heathrow as long as key environmental â€“ including air quality â€“ concerns were addressed (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Now, DfT says it will test the Airports Commissionâ€™s air quality analysis â€œusing the latest projected future concentrations of nitrogen dioxideâ€ and that it anticipates the package of further environmental work to conclude next summer.
Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, said yesterday (December 10): â€œThe case for aviation expansion is clear â€“ but itâ€™s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come. We will undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon.
â€œWe must develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people. We will continue work on all the shortlisted locations, so that the timetable for more capacity set out by Sir Howard is met. At the first opportunity I will make a statement to the House to make clear our plans.â€
Earlier this week, environmental NGO ClientEarth said delaying a decision over whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick would be â€œa victory for air quality and common senseâ€ as it would show the PM had â€œdecided to stop and think about the impact that this would have on air qualityâ€ (see AirQualityNews.com story).
However, yesterdayâ€™s announcement has elsewhere prompted criticism, with the Green Partyâ€™s Caroline Lucas MP calling the delay â€œunacceptable when a rejection is whatâ€™s neededâ€.
She said politics made the decision â€œdifficult for governmentâ€ but that expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick â€œwould be bad news for local residents who will suffer enormously from increasing noise and air pollutionâ€.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Oliver Hayes said the delay was â€œno surpriseâ€ but called for a tax on frequent fliers â€œwho are contributing most to the air pollution and carbon problems that aviation exacerbatesâ€.
Heathrow asserted yesterday that it had â€œfull confidence that expansion can be delivered within environmental limitsâ€ adding that a third runway has support â€œlocally and nationally from politicians, business, trade unions and the aviation industryâ€.
Gatwick Airport, meanwhile, described the delay as a â€œdefining momentâ€ in the airport expansion debate leaving the momentum â€œfirmly behind Gatwick as the only legal option for expansionâ€.
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport chief executive, said: â€œWe are glad that the government recognises that more work on environmental impact needs to be done. Air quality, for example, is a publicÂ healthÂ priority and obviously the legal safeguardsÂ around itÂ cannot be wished away.â€