Landmark air pollution ruling by Supreme Court could scupper 3rd runway at Heathrow due to high NO2 level

The UK Supreme Court has quashed the Government’s ineffective plans to cut illegal levels of air pollution in Britain and ordered it to deliver new ones by the end of the year. The Supreme Court Justices were unanimous in their decision, saying: “The new Government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue.”  This could have implications for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, as areas around the airport continue to be stubbornly above the EU legal limits.  That is due both to air pollution from the planes in addition to the huge amount of traffic on the M4 and M25. In their verdict, 5 judges ordered the Secretary of State at DEFRA to consult on strict new air pollution plans that must be submitted to the European Commission by 31 December 2015. The EU Air Quality Directive demanded the UK brought pollution down to legal limits by 2010 or apply for an extension by 2015. But the government in 2011 said that a number of areas, including London, would be unable to comply by 2015 and instead argued the law allowed it to comply “as soon as possible”. The judgement marks a victory for the campaigning legal firm ClientEarth.  HACAN commented: “This is a potential show-stopper as far as a 3rd runway is concerned.”
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Landmark air pollution ruling could scupper 3rd runway at Heathrow

29.4.2015 (HACAN)

A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court handed down this morning could have implications for a third runway at Heathrow.

In a unanimous verdict, five judges ordered the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to consult on strict new air pollution plans that must be submitted to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015.

The plans require the Government crack down on the UK’s high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. Lord Carnwath said the court was “in no doubt about the seriousness” of the UK’s breach of EU law in failing to meet legal pollution limits, which leaves it open to the risk of European Commission fines totalling £300 million.

The EU Air Quality Directive demanded the UK brought pollution down to legal limits by 2010 or apply for an extension by 2015. But the government in 2011 said that a number of areas, including London, would be unable to comply by 2015 and instead argued the law allowed it to comply “as soon as possible”.

The judgement marks a victory for the campaigning legal firm ClientEarth which had sued the Government over its lack of action.

The judgement could also have implications for a third runway at Heathrow.

Areas around the airport continue to be stubbornly above the EU legal limits.  It is down to a combination of pollution from the planes and the huge amount of traffic on the M4 and M25. Due to the proximity of these huge roads, it is the only airport in the UK where the EU limits are breached or are likely to be so in the future.

John Stewart, the chair of HACAN, which campaigns against a third runway, said, “This is a potential show-stopper as far as a third runway is concerned.  It is difficult to see how any Government will get away with backing a new runway at Heathrow when the plans it is now required to draw up urgently to present to the EU say it must come up with a coherent plan to cut air pollution.”

http://hacan.org.uk/landmark-air-pollution-ruling-could-scupper-3rd-runway/

www.hacan.org.uk

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See also:

Why the ruling by the Supreme Court on air pollution could stop plans for a new SE runway

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Government must produce a new action plan by the end of this year for bringing air pollution within legal limits. A decision to allow another Heathrow runway could be legally challenged unless the Government’s new plans are sufficiently ambitious to reduce emissions of a 2 runway airport below the legal limit – and also leave enough headroom to accommodate the negative impact of a 3rd runway. There is only pure speculation on how it could be achieved. The court ruling also suggests that the cost-benefit analysis for adding a runway will need to be revised, as the Government has previously claimed that complying with air quality law would be too expensive. And this does not only affect Heathrow, but Gatwick too. Gatwick is keen to claim it does not have a poor air quality problem. But EU regulations require not only that poor air quality must be improved but also that good air quality should be protected. A 2nd Gatwick runway would mean local air pollution hotspots, with a risk of breaching the legal limits. The Airports Commission has a duty to the public not to recommend a project that would significantly damage people’s health. It would also be a poor use of taxpayer’s money to make recommendations that invite a legal challenge.

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Earlier:

Airports Commission consultation shows air quality problems with new runways, but no adequate data yet

No new information has yet been provided by the Commission.  29.4.2015

The Airports Commission consultation document is aware that air quality is a major obstacle for a new Heathrow runway.  It says expanding either Gatwick or Heathrow would have a negative impact on air quality, with all proposed schemes requiring expansions to local road networks to accommodate increased road traffic. For both the Heathrow runway options the Commission says “Both local Air Quality Objectives and EU limit thresholds are at risk of exceedance at a small number of monitoring sites in the local area under this scheme. While in some cases these exceedances are also forecast to occur in the do minimum scenario, there is clearly a substantial negative impact of the scheme on air quality, unless forceful mitigation measures are implemented.” But they have not been able to complete full detailed modelling of the air quality impacts of new runways and further work is needed. This unfortunately is not in time for the consultation.  The Commission intends to supplement this at a future date with “more detailed dispersion modelling”.  [Section 2.56 of consultation document]. That means models to show how wind and weather disperses pollution, and it could be questioned how much faith should be placed on sufficient wind speeds in coming years.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2014/11/airports-commission-consultation-shows-air-quality-problems-with-new-runways-but-no-adequate-data-yet/

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UK Supreme Court orders Government to take “immediate action” on air pollution

29 April 2015 (Client Earth)

The UK Supreme Court has quashed the Government’s ineffective plans to cut illegal levels of air pollution in Britain and ordered it to deliver new ones by the end of the year.

The Supreme Court Justices were unanimous in their decision, handed down this morning, saying: “The new Government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue.”

The historic ruling is the culmination of a five year legal battle fought by ClientEarth for the right of British people to breathe clean air.

The ruling will save thousands of lives a year by forcing the Government to urgently clean up pollution from diesel vehicles, the main source of the illegal levels of nitrogen nioxide found in many of the UK’s towns and cities.

ClientEarth Lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the Supreme Court has upheld that right.

“This ruling will benefit everyone’s health but particularly children, older people and those with existing health conditions like asthma and heart and lung disease.

“The next Government, regardless of the political party or parties which take power, is now legally bound to take urgent action on this public health crisis. Before next week’s election all political parties need to make a clear commitment to policies which will deliver clean air and protect our health.”

The Supreme Court ruling means the Government must start work on a comprehensive plan to meet pollution limits as soon as possible. Among the measures that it must consider are low emission zones, congestion charging and other economic incentives.

ClientEarth is calling for action to clean up the worst polluting diesel vehicles, including through a national network of low emission zones.

http://www.clientearth.org/news/press-releases/uk-supreme-court-orders-government-to-take-immediate-action-on-air-pollution-2843

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Supreme Court orders UK to clean up air pollution in landmark ruling

Major victory for ClientEarth after five year legal battle

By Jessica Shankleman (Business Green)

29 Apr 2015

Ministers must draw up strict plans to crack down on the UK’s high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution, following a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court today.

In a unanimous verdict, five judges ordered the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consult on new air pollution plans that must be submitted to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015.

Lord Carnwath said the court was “in no doubt about the seriousness” of the UK’s breach of EU law in failing to meet legal pollution limits, which leaves it open to the risk of European Commission fines totalling £300m.

The EU Air Quality Directive demanded the UK brought pollution down to legal limits by 2010 or apply for an extension by 2015. But the government in 2011 said that a number of areas, including London, would be unable to comply by 2015 and instead argued the law allowed it to comply “as soon as possible”.

Defra’s plans revealed that some of the worst polluted areas of the country, such as London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, will be unable to meet legal limits until after 2030.

The NGO ClientEarth sued the government over its proposal, in an attempt to force the government to take more ambitious action to tackle air pollution, which is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths a year.

At a hearing earlier this month, the government volunteered to publish a consultation this autumn on a new plan that included “appropriate, feasible and effective” measures for bringing down NO2. That plan would then be submitted to the Commission by the end of this year, the government said.

The Secretary of State argued that an injunction was unnecessary because the European Commission launched its own infraction proceedings against the UK last year, which it was working to comply with.

However, ClientEarth argued Defra could not be relied upon to deliver voluntarily and asked the Supreme Court to impose an injunction.

The judges agreed with ClientEarth, saying they would be “failing in their duty” if they “simply accepted” assurances from the Secretary of State without any legal underpinning. They also noted that since 2010, the government has revealed more pessimistic predictions of when some areas could comply.

The outcome is likely to place fresh pressure on ministers to introduce bolder measures for tackling air pollution.

Some campaigners have called on the government to ban the most polluting diesel vehicles, which are widely blamed for causing spikes in NO2 pollution that may increase the risk of breathing and heart problems, expand ultra low emission zones in urban areas and revisit plans for road pricing and higher taxes for the dirtiest vehicles. The ruling could also impact plans to expand Heathrow Airport, as it is located in one of the UK’s worst air pollution blackspots.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said the Supreme Court ruling upheld the right for people to breathe clean air. “The next government, regardless of the political party or parties which take power, is now legally bound to take urgent action on this public health crisis,” he said in a statement.

“Before next week’s election all political parties need to make a clear commitment to policies which will deliver clean air and protect our health.”

Ellie Watson, an environment lawyer for Pinsent Masons said the ruling could open the door for a series of similar legal challenges across European Member States as the UK is not alone in failing to comply with NO2 limits.

“UK Government will now have to act fast to cut nitrogen dioxide levels to avoid hefty fines,” she said. “For business, this will inevitably mean more stringent regulation but savvy firms will translate investment into low emission vehicle fleets and ramped up green travel policies into cost savings and PR benefit.

“EU law-makers may now find themselves under some pressure to rethink the directive and the EU’s approach to managing pollution levels.”

http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2406257/supreme-court-orders-uk-to-clean-up-air-pollution-in-landmark-ruling

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See also:

EU ruling on air pollution compliance is a ‘major blow’ for Heathrow Airport expansion plans

The levels of air pollution in the Heathrow area already routinely breach EU limits (the Air Quality Directive), for nitrogen dioxide, due to the concentration of road traffic in the area – in addition to the aircraft. The UK has tried to avoid a showdown with the EU by agreeing to reduce air pollution levels in line with the EU directive by 2025, but the date has since slipped to ‘post 2030′. The European Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has now rejected this plan and UK ministers will have to prepare new measures for reducing illegal pollution levels ‘as soon as possible’. The CJEU has given the UK Supreme Court responsibility for enforcing compliance with air quality law. Judges will examine the case next year. The cross-party 2M group of councils opposing a 3rd Heathrow runway say this is a ‘major blow’ for the plans. Heathrow hopes that improvement, over coming years, in road vehicle emissions will solve their problem, but this is outside their control. The 2M groups says the Supreme Court will have to be convinced about the unlikely scenario in which air pollution can be reduced  -while Heathrow increases flights, road traffic and freight.”

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2014/12/eu-ruling-on-air-pollution-compliance-is-a-major-blow-for-heathrow-airport-expansion-plans/

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Defra condemned for proposals – yet again – to scrap local air pollution monitoring, with danger of reducing air quality

Edit this entry.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/01/24345/

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Defra condemned by Clean Air in London for proposals scrapping local air pollution monitoring

Air pollution is a key problem for Heathrow, making the addition of a 3rd runway very hard to justify – or to fit within legal air quality limits. The main pollutant with which Heathrow has problems is NOX – nitrogen oxides, the  majority of which comes from road traffic. The actual proportion from aircraft, airport vehicles and other road vehicles is very difficult to establish. The other key air pollutants are PM10 and PM2.5 – tiny particles which lodge in the lungs and can cause long term health problems. DEFRA has responsibility for air quality monitoring. It put out a consultation on streamlining some air pollution  monitoring, on 19th December (finishes 30th January). The aim is to no longer require local authorities to monitor 4 pollutants, and to combine monitoring of PM10s with PM2.5s. The group, Clean in London says “DEFRA’s plans would result inevitably in the scrapping of thousands of local monitoring sites that have taken a decade to put in place and probably all of them within a few months or years.”  Also that “Alarmingly, local authorities are being told to make use of Defra’s tiny national monitoring network (i.e. 137 monitors, few of which measure two or more of NO2, PM2.5 and PM10).”

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/01/defra-condemned-by-clean-air-in-london-for-proposals-scrapping-local-air-pollution-monitoring/

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ClientEarth wins case – EU Court rules UK government must act to clean up deadly air pollution

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered its judgement in ClientEarth’s case,  that the UK must act to clean up illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible”.  Under current plans the UK will not meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until after 2030 – twenty years after the original deadline.  NO2 has known harmful health impacts including increasing the risk of heart attacks and asthma. In their case at the ECJ, ClientEarth win on all points.  The judgement says the UK’s plans should have aimed at compliance by 1 January 2015 at the latest.  The UK remains in ongoing breach of EU law, and UK courts must order the government to produce a plan which rapidly achieves NO2 limits. To be successful, a plan to deal with air pollution needs to drastically cut nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicles. Much of the air pollution around airports, like Heathrow, is caused by these diesel vehicles.  Around 29,000 people die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution, making it the biggest public health problem after smoking. ClientEarth’s case will return to the UK Supreme Court for a final ruling next year. 

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2014/11/eu-court-rules-uk-government-must-act-to-clean-up-deadly-air-pollution/
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