Economic arguments have long been at the forefront of the debate over airport expansion in the UK but another topic has fast become vital to the debate.
Air quality was a central theme in the response from Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye to the Airports Commission report.
Airport expansion has been a political hot topic in the UK for years. Successive governments have avoided taking the decision about which of the country’s airports should be allowed to build extra capacity.
The Airports Commission’s report last July came down in favour of Heathrow but this did not stop further delays. It is anybody’s guess whether the government will stick to its current commitment to make a decision in July this year.
ClientEarth’s interest in all of this is based primarily on the increased air pollution that airport expansion, wherever it happens, is likely to cause.
As readers may know, we won our case against the government in the UK Supreme Court last year over its failure to uphold our right to clean air. The government was ordered to come up with new plans to bring air pollution (specifically nitrogen dioxide – NO2) within legal limits as soon as possible. The plans it produced in December will do nothing of the sort, so we’re taking them back to court.
How does this relate to airport expansion?
Well, any increase in air traffic at an airport is likely to lead to an increase in road traffic. One of the main causes of NO2 in our towns and cities is diesel vehicles. Heathrow is in an area that already has illegal levels of NO2 air pollution, so the government would be on shaky legal ground if it sanctioned any expansion which went against the Supreme Court order to bring pollution down as soon as possible.
Mr Holland-Kaye’s assurances on air quality, and the evidence he provides for them, are underwhelming.
He claims that there will be an ‘ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) for airport vehicles by 2025’. We don’t know what conditions this zone will have. Regardless, it would be five years behind the tardy ULEZ which is currently slated to come into force in the congestion charging zone in central London. although London’s new mayor is already proposing significantly expanding this zone, and bringing it in earlier.
The Heathrow chief executive promises to ‘develop plans’ for an emissions charging scheme for vehicles accessing the airport. Developing plans (with no deadline for delivery that we have seen) is far from the radical action needed to get air pollution down to legal levels as soon as possible.
He also talks of extending a low emissions zone to Heathrow but again we haven’t seen the detail of when this would happen or what standards would apply.
A more fundamental problem for Heathrow is that as the area around the airport breaks legal limits, all these measures should be happening regardless of expansion, in order to satisfy the Supreme Court order and achieve legal limits as soon as possible.
It is worth bearing in mind that there are huge problems with the ultra low emissions zone that Boris Johnson planned for London in 2020. The zone relies on EU emissions standards – known as the ‘Euro standards‘ – allowing only vehicles that meet the Euro 6 emissions standards to access the zone free of charge. The problem is that, by the government’s own admission, the Euro 6 diesel cars on our roads emit on average six times the legal limits.
All of this makes it difficult to believe that the expansion could go ahead without a significant increase in ambition from Heathrow when it comes to reducing air pollution.
What Heathrow offered, on air quality (Heathrow press release,11th May):
|Airports Commission conditions||Heathrow proposal|
|AIR QUALITY:“Additional operations at an expanded Heathrow must be contingent on acceptable performance on air quality. New capacity will be released when it is clear that air quality at sites around the airport will not delay compliance with EU limits.”||Meeting the Airports CommissionAdditional operations at an expanded Heathrow will be contingent on acceptable performance on air quality and will be in accordance with air quality rules. New capacity at an expanded airport will not be released unless we can do so without delaying UK compliance with EU air quality limits.
Exceeding the Airports Commission
We will create an ultra-low emissions zone for airport vehicles by 2025. We will develop plans for an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport to encourage low-emission technology and fund sustainable transport.To provide further confidence, we propose that the Environment Agency be given the role of an independent aviation air quality authority, to provide transparent scrutiny of our plans.
Environmental law firm ClientEarth has called for greater detail on the proposals put forward yesterday (12 May) to limit air pollution from a potential third runway at Heathrow Airport.
ClientEarth, which is behind the legal challenge over the government’s plans for tackling air pollution across the UK, has called for ‘detailed analysis’ of the proposals put forward by Heathrow, and how they would help to meet air quality limits.
The organisation also claimed that pollution levels around the airport must be cut ‘drastically’ before expansion can be considered.
Yesterday, a series of measures were outlined as to how the airport would aim to meet air quality limits were it to go-ahead with a third runway (see airqualitynews.com story).
These go further than those proposed by the Airports Commission and include the creation of an ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) for airport vehicles by 2025 and an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport.
Low emission zone
The proposals also indicate that Heathrow would work with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to extend the existing low emission zone to address areas of current non-compliance along the M4 motorway near Heathrow, and to “tighten standards” throughout the entire zone.
According to ClientEarth, the proposals put forward by Heathrow go further than the ‘pathetic’ plans outlined by the government to tackle air quality in the area.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Last year the UK Supreme Court ordered the government to draw up new plans that would bring air pollution in London within legal limits as soon as possible. Even without expansion, under those new plans the area around Heathrow will continue to be in breach of legal pollution limits until 2025.
“Heathrow has gone further than the government in proposing it be brought within the ultra low emissions zone. That’s definitely an improvement on the Government’s pathetic plans, but it doesn’t get around two fundamental problems.”
Mr Andrews claimed that the steps outlined by Heathrow would likely be necessary to meet emissions limits regardless of whether the third runway proposals go ahead, and he claimed that this should be carried out in conjunction with steps to reduce emissions from diesel cars more widely.
He added: “We need to see detailed analysis on what these proposals would achieve, but air pollution around the airport needs to be cut drastically before we can think about expansion. It’s difficult to see how that would happen without something far more radical than what’s currently on the table.”
Plans for new low emission zone around Heathrow
29 APR 2015
BY ROBERT CUMBER (Get West London)
Airport bosses want to ban all but the cleanest buses and coaches from serving the airport
Bosses at Heathrow want to introduce a central London style ultra low emission zone for coaches and buses serving the airport.
The move is part of a new 10-point plan to help reduce air pollution around the airport, which currently exceeds EU limits.
The airport also plans to further increase landing fees for the most polluting planes and make its entire fleet of vehicles electric or hybrid, among other measures set out in its blueprint to reduce emissions.
It says the commitments will help cut ground-based nitrous oxide emissions at the airport by 5% by 2020, compared with 2009 levels.
Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Having spoken to the local community and looked at what we could do to address noise, set out in our 10-point noise action plan published last November, we wanted to work on air quality.
“We’ve reduced emissions by 16% in the last five years but we need to go further. Having made the easier changes we need to start doing the less easy things.”
There are currently two air monitoring points north of Heathrow on the M4, in Hillingdon and Hayes, which exceed the legally-binding EU limit of 40 microgrammes of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre.
Heathrow claims airport-related emissions, including those from vehicles carrying passengers and staff to the airport, account for just 16% and 6% respectively of pollution at those sites.
However, Mr Holland-Kaye said he recognised Heathrow had a role to play in reducing pollution around its perimeter.
That stretch of the M4 is currently excluded from the low emission zone, prohibiting the dirtiest vehicles, which covers the majority of London.
Mr Holland-Kaye said this was to allow non-compliant vehicles which had accidentally entered the zone to exit before being penalised.
However, he said Heathrow was in talks with Transport for London (TfL) about ending this exemption, as well as introducing an ultra low emission zone for buses and coaches travelling to the airport.
He told getwestlondon TfL had been very receptive to the idea but he was reluctant to put a time frame on the move as it was not within the airport’s power.
He added that Heathrow was also working with TfL to get more cleaner hybrid buses serving routes around the airport.
Heathrow has previously raised the prospect of a congestion zone for passengers and staff travelling by car to the airport. However, this is unlikely to be introduced for many years, if at all.
Heathrow’s 10-point plan to manage and reduce emissions:
- Reduce emissions from aircraft at the gate
- Phase out the oldest and dirtiest aircraft
- Improve aircraft taxiing efficiency
- Provide more and better electric vehicle charging points
- Incentivise low-emission vehicles
- Work with partners to set up emissions zones and standards
- Reduce emissions from Heathrow’s own fleet
- Pool ground support vehicles to reduce numbers and emissions
- Lead the move to electric vehicles airside
- Modernise Heathrow’s heating supply