Heathrow to bring in vehicle charging ahead of third runway

Heathrow will introduce an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by 2022 that will target polluting passenger cars and taxis that drive to and from the airport, before introducing a wider Vehicle Access Charge (VAC) when their third runway opens in 2026. 

The move comes weeks after Heathrow’s third runway plans were challenged in the High Court by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, five local authorities, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who hoped to overturn the government’s go-ahead to an expansion that will see passenger numbers almost double from 80 million to 130 million a year.

The government’s own figures predict that the extra traffic caused by the expansion will worsen air pollution ‘widely’ across London.

Heathrow believes their ULEZ will help tackle this extra air pollution on roads around Heathrow, which are already some of the most polluted in the wider London area, and encourage passengers to travel via public transport.

However, a recent report from London TravelWatch revealed that an increasing number of passengers are choosing to travel via taxi or ride-hailing apps such as Uber, in a trend described as ‘concerning’ in the report.

Oliver Hayes, climate campaigner from Friends of the Earth told AirQualityNews that Heathrow’s ULEZ plans amount to ‘greenwashing’, with the airport ‘indifferent’ to tackling the challenges of climate change.

‘Why should improving local air quality be contingent on expansion? The proposed measures could be introduced now, without a third runway,’ he said.

‘It’s transparently a bargaining chip from an increasingly desperate Heathrow, who fear the implications of parliament’s Climate Emergency declaration and the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation of “net zero” UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.’

Heathrow says revenue generated from the ULEZ and VAC will help fund initiatives to improve sustainable transport, contribute to ‘community compensation’ and help keep airport charges affordable following the expansion.

They added they will mirror London’s ULEZ minimum vehicle emissions standards with charges expected to be between £10-15.

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘Heathrow Expansion is not a choice between the economy and the environment – we must deliver for both.

‘Today’s announcement shows that we will take the tough decisions to ensure that the airport grows responsibly.’

Earlier this month, Heathrow published their annual sustainability document, setting out their carbon neutral ambitions, with much of the focus on reducing emissions through offsetting.

Airlines have been slow to move towards low-emission technology or clean fuels, and currently, all flights in and out of Heathrow from the EU pay no tax on jet fuel, which campaigners say is blocking innovation in the market.

A leaked European Commission report claimed that an aviation tax would slash emissions by 11% (16.4 million tonnes of CO2) a year.

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