EC stance on air pollution in London could affect ability of Heathrow to expand

Government plans to delay air pollution improvements in 12 areas of the UK areas were refused by the European Commission in June. The UK may now face fines if it fails to improve air quality quickly.   The worst offender is London, where it is estimated that there over 4,000 ‘excess deaths’ per year from air pollution. This could have implications for Heathrow expansion. Air pollution is recognised by the government as the 2nd-biggest public health threat, after smoking. A judgement will be made at a later date on government plans to delay meeting NO2 standards in major cities until 2020 – or in the case of London, 2025. The EC decision addresses the shorter term, whereas a 3rd runway at Heathrow could not be operation for about 10 years. However, the tough stance by the EC suggests that any plan for Heathrow expansion, which increased air pollution and prevented limits being met, would face legal action.



 

EC stance on air pollution could affect Heathrow expansion

Nov 14th 2012  (Aviation Environment Federation)

Government plans to delay air pollution improvements in 12 UK areas have been refused by the European Commission. The UK may now face fines if it fails to improve air quality quickly.

The worst offender is London, where it is estimated that there over 4,000 ‘excess deaths’ pa from air pollution. This could have implications for Heathrow expansion.

Air pollution is recognised by the government as the second-biggest public health threat, after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20bn a year – more than twice the amount estimated for obesity, which gets far more publicity. Air pollution reduces average life expectancy in the UK by up to eight months, according to the government’s own statistics.

A judgement will be made at a later date on government plans to delay meeting NO2 standards in major cities until 2020 – or in the case of London, 2025.

The current decision by the EC addresses the shorter term, whereas a third runway at Heathrow could not be operation for about 10 years. However, the tough stance by the EC suggests that any plan for Heathrow expansion, which increased air pollution and prevented limits being met, would face legal action.

For more on this story see BBC article. For more on air pollution in London see CCAL web site.

http://www.aef.org.uk/?p=1471

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see earlier:

Is air pollution the biggest obstacle to a third runway at Heathrow?

6.9.2012   Alan Andrews, from Client Earth (a group of environmental lawyers) writes that though Cameron’s reshuffle might have removed a couple of high profile political obstacles to a third runway, it has not dealt with the more difficult obstacle: EU air quality limits. EU law sets legally binding limits on levels of harmful pollution in our air. These limits, which are based on WHO guidelines, govern a number of pollutants which are damaging to human health. The limits for NO2 are currently being broken in towns and cities throughout the UK. But they are worst in London – which is thought to have the worst levels of NO2 of any EU capital. Where limits are breached, EU law requires that an action plan be drawn up which achieves compliance in the “shortest time possible.”  The Government’s plan for London shows that limits won’t be achieved until 2025. Alan explains how this means expanding Heathrow would be subject to legal challenge and EU opposition.

6.9.2012

aeroplane, London, Heathrow, air pollution

photo by: ZeePack

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle is clearing the way for a U-turn on Heathrow. Certainly that is the conclusion much of the British media has reached. While the reshuffle might have removed a couple of high profile political obstacles to a third runway, there is one major obstacle that will be far more difficult to remove: EU air quality limits.

EU law sets legally binding limits on levels of harmful pollution in our air. These limits, which are based on World Health Organisation guidelines, govern a number of pollutants which are damaging to human health.  The limits for one pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), are currently being broken in towns and cities throughout the UK. But they are worst in London – which is thought to have the worst levels of NO2 of any EU capital.

Where limits are breached, EU law requires that an action plan be drawn up which achieves compliance in the “shortest time possible.”  The Government’s plan for London shows that limits won’t be achieved until 2025.

This is the reason for ClientEarth’s ongoing legal challenge against the Government. We are asking the UK’s Supreme Court to order the Government to come up with a much more ambitious plan which will ensure limits are met in London and throughout the UK by 2015 at the latest.

So what does this have to do with Heathrow?

By law, planning permission should be refused where a development will cause air quality limits to be breached, or make air quality worse in an area where pollution already exceeds the limits. Given that Heathrow is a major pollution hotspot, this is deeply problematic. A third runway would inevitably lead to increased emissions of air pollution, not just from planes, but also from the increase in cars and taxis needed to carry passengers to and from the airport. Any decision to approve a third runway would therefore be vulnerable to a legal challenge. The government would also have a hard job persuading Brussels and the UK courts that its plans were really achieving limits “in the shortest time possible” while giving the green light to a project that would push legal compliance into the distant future.

Unfortunately for the pro-expansion lobby, environmental laws are harder to get rid of than troublesome ministers. But that won’t stop them trying – the Government is already lobbying in Brussels to weaken EU air quality laws. The EU is reviewing all its air pollution laws in 2013 and the UK has made no secret of the fact that it will use this opportunity to try to replace that annoying NO2 limit with something more “flexible”.[1]

If they succeed, they will not only open the door for a third runway at Heathrow, but also undermine a crucial legal safeguard for human health. ClientEarth will be working flat-out over the next 12 months to make sure that doesn’t happen.


[1] http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13728-red-tape-environment.pdf

Page 7: “Working in partnership with other Member States, we will also use the European Commission review of air quality legislation, expected in 2013, to seek…amendments to the Air Quality Directive which reduce the infraction risk faced by most Member States, especially in relation to nitrogen dioxide provisions.”

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http://www.clientearth.org/  – activist lawyers committed to ensuring a healthy planet.

 

 http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=614 

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BBC article:

27 June 2012

Europe refuses UK air pollution reprieve

Roger HarrabinBy Roger Harrabin. BBC  Environment analyst

Government plans to delay air pollution improvements in 12 UK areas have been refused by the European Commission, which says air quality must improve.

The UK may now face fines if it fails to improve air quality quickly.  (See link to the EU decision document)

Air pollution reduces average life expectancy in the UK by up to eight months, according to the government’s own statistics.

But ministers have been slow to meet agreed European standards on cutting levels of the pollutant NO2.

This comes mainly from vehicles. It causes problems with breathing – particularly for people with heart or lung problems.

The UK has been denied permission by the commission to delay air quality improvements in 12 areas – Aberdeen and north-east Scotland; Belfast; Birkenhead; Brighton; Bristol; Liverpool; Preston; Sheffield; south-west England; south Wales; Swansea and Tyneside.

Second-biggest threat

A judgement will be made at a later date on government plans to delay meeting NO2 standards in major cities until 2020 – or in the case of London, 2025.

London has the worst air of any European capital, and the UK is likely to be fined over the failure.

Air pollution is recognised by the government as the second-biggest public health threat, after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20bn a year – that’s more than twice the amount estimated for obesity, which gets far more publicity.

Daniel Instone, giving evidence on behalf of Defra, said ministers were considering a nationwide network of low-emission zones in which the most polluting vehicles were banned.

Simon Birkett, a campaigner from Clean Air in London, said the commission’s ruling suggested that such a network would now be inevitable.

NO2 pollution affects long-term health. Experts giving evidence to the Environment Committee, EFRA, said the health of Olympic athletes visiting over the summer should not be harmed as long as the UK avoids a heat-induced smog episode.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18617815