Left: Design rendering of the expansion plan for London Heathrow Airport
The UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has said that Prime Minister David Cameron should not give final approval for the expansion of London Heathrow until the airport can demonstrate that it will comply with key environmental conditions. It is widely reported that the Prime Minister was due to reach a decision regarding the expansion of London Heathrow Airport by the end of 2015.
The committee’s MPs say that London Heathrow must demonstrate that it can reconcile expansion with legal air pollution limits, commit to covering the costs of surface transport improvements, commit to introducing a night flight ban, and show that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than a dual-runway airport.
The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, ex-chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), officially endorsed the expansion of London Heathrow in July this year, stating that the airport would be compatible with the government’s target of 37.5MtCO₂ emissions from aviation by 2050. However, the EAC have raised concerns over the Commission’s interpretation of the Air Quality Directive, after its final report implied that significant increases in nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) resulting from the expansion of Heathrow would be allowable because of worse performance elsewhere in London.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP, chair of the EAC, said, “The purpose of this inquiry was not to reopen the debate over where extra airport capacity should be located or whether it should take place at all. It was to examine the implications of the Airports Commission’s recommendation for a third runway on climate-changing emissions, air quality and noise – and what the government and Heathrow should do about them.
“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.
“Planes are becoming more fuel efficient, but this alone will not keep aviation emissions in line with the government’s climate change targets given the growth in passenger numbers. Even without expansion, aviation is on track to exceed its climate change target. We heard evidence that those targets might be met in theory, but at present there is a policy vacuum and evidence-based skepticism as to whether they can be met in practice.
“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.”