The government has stressed that expansion of Heathrow Airport to include a new third runway, will not go ahead without assurances that it will not compromise air quality in London.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced in Parliament today (5 June) that the government has given its backing for a north western runway at Heathrow â€“ adding that a â€˜comprehensiveâ€™ package of measures has been agreed to mitigate the developmentâ€™s impact on the environment.
Mr Grayling told MPs, who will be required to vote on the final decision, that the government will only grant development consent for the new runway â€˜on the basis that it is delivered within existing air quality obligationsâ€™.
The minister said: â€œAs we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the worldâ€™s best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this.
â€œWe have listened to views through our consultations and will ensure a world-class package of measures to help any local communities affected by the expansion.â€
On air quality he added: â€œWe will only grant development consent if we are satisfied that a new runway would not impact the UKâ€™s compliance with air quality obligations. Advances in technology also mean new planes are cleaner, greener and quieter than the ones they are replacing.â€
A report published in October suggested that plans to develop a new runway at the West London airport could further delay the UKâ€™s compliance with EU air pollution limit values (see airqualitynews.com).
The government subsequently launched a consultation into the findings of the report seeking views on potential mitigation measures to address any potential concerns over increased air pollution, as well as any potential knock-on effects on noise and biodiversity from the third runway.
In its response to the findings of the consultation, published by the Department for Transport this afternoon, the government said that the development â€˜is capable of being developed in compliance with legal obligations.â€™
Mitigation of the air quality impact from the increased volume of traffic into the airport, potential for air pollution from construction and roll-out of cleaner aircraft will need to be considered for the sign off on the development, the response suggests.
â€œThe Airports NPS [National Policy Statement] recognises that a Northwest Runway at Heathrow will have a range of impacts on local and national transport networks serving the airport. It is important that improvements are made to Heathrow Airportâ€™s transport links to be able to support the increased number of people who will need to access the expanded airport, should development consent be granted.â€
The environmental campaign group that has led successive legal challenges against the governmentâ€™s air quality plans â€“ ClientEarth â€“ said today that expansion of the airport â€˜looks very toughâ€™ given the governmentâ€™s obligations to meet air pollution limits.
Commenting on the announcement, the organisationâ€™s chief executive, James Thornton, said that ClientEarth would â€˜examine the plans with interestâ€™ to ensure that this goal is not compromised.
He said: â€œThe UK Government is already failing to meet legal limits for harmful air pollution, so expansion looks very tough under those circumstances. Ministers should be doing everything they can to comply with air pollution laws to protect peopleâ€™s health before even considering adding to the problem.
â€œItâ€™s also very difficult to see how this could be done given the UKâ€™s climate commitments. Weâ€™ll be examining the final plans with interest.â€