Government backed Heathrow 3rd runway ‘using old air pollution data’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has admitted the Government backed a 3rd runway at Heathrow without fully understanding the implications of ground-breaking new evidence on vehicle emission standards. Ministers insist Heathrow can expand within EU limits on air pollution, which are currently being widely breached in the capital. But a study for the Government, supporting its third runway decision, was not based on the latest international analysis by experts, which showed emissions from some diesel vehicles are worse than previously claimed. Mr Grayling is to appear before the EAC on 30th November to give evidence on Heathrow and its environmental issues. In a letter to the Environmental Audit Cttee (EAC), Mr Grayling said: “Further work is needed to understand the implications of this evidence. … But our initial assessment suggests that revised forecasts would be likely to be within the range of scenarios already considered by our re-analysis [on air quality].” However, EAC chairwoman Mary Creagh said: “We will want to hear from the minister how the Government can meet air quality standards given what we now know about real-world emissions, which are higher than used in the Government’s business case [for a third runway]. We are also concerned that the plans for low-emission vehicle uptake and improvements in public transport are over-ambitious.”
Government backed Heathrow Airport third runway ‘using old pollution data’
By NICHOLAS CECIL
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today admitted the Government backed a third runway at Heathrow without fully understanding the implications of ground-breaking new evidence on vehicle emission standards.
Ministers insist the west London airport can expand within EU limits on air pollution, which are currently being widely breached in the capital.
But a study for the Government, supporting its third runway decision, was not based on the latest international analysis by experts, which showed emissions from some diesel vehicles are worse than previously claimed.
“Further work is needed to understand the implications of this evidence,” Mr Grayling told MPs in a letter ahead of his appearance in front of the Commons environmental audit committee next week. Link
“But our initial assessment suggests that revised forecasts would be likely to be within the range of scenarios already considered by our re-analysis [on air quality].”
However, Environmental Audit committee chairwoman Mary Creagh said: “We will want to hear from the minister how the Government can meet air quality standards given what we now know about real-world emissions, which are higher than used in the Government’s business case [for a third runway].
“We are also concerned that the plans for low-emission vehicle uptake and improvements in public transport are over-ambitious.”
Ministers insist the Government’s 2015 Air Quality Plan and new measures around Heathrow will ensure London will not be breaking nitrogen dioxide levels in the mid 2020s when the new runway is due to open.
But the Government was defeated earlier this month for the second time in the courts over this blueprint.
The ruling in the Judicial Review, brought by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, called the plan “woefully inadequate”.
“We are carefully considering what this means for the airport capacity programme,” Mr Grayling added in his letter.
The Cabinet minister emphasised that final consent for another runway would only be given if the Government believed it would not breach the UK’s compliance with pollution limits.
A government spokeswoman said: “Improving air quality is a priority and we are determined to cut harmful emissions. Our plans have always followed the best available evidence — we have always been clear that we are ready to update them if necessary.”
Mr Grayling also backed the Airport Commission’s conclusion that a third runway could be built with fewer people suffering noise blight than currently, and also while meeting the UK’s carbon targets.
Dr Tania Mathias debate in Parliament on Heathrow – hoping in vain for government assurances on air pollution
Dr Tania Mathias, Conservative MP for Twickenham, secured a debate on Heathrow and its air pollution problem. She made persuasive and important points, and received only inadequate responses from John Hayes, the Minister of State, DfT. A few quotes are copied here: …”the WHO has said that for PM2.5 “no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.”… “within just over a week of the Government being found guilty in the courts of not having an adequate plan to address air quality, they decided to approve Heathrow expansion. The expansion will involve perhaps 50% more planes. … with nearly 250,000 more flights planned, there will be thousands more passengers and staff, and they will not be walking to and from Heathrow airport.” … “£799 million will be spent on car parks at an expanded Heathrow.”.. My question to the Minister is simple: if the Government support Heathrow expansion, how will they get air quality within legal targets? I have asked two Prime Ministers, two Secretaries of State for Transport and a Minister from DEFRA how they can expand Heathrow airport without increasing air pollution. Thus far, I have been assured that it will happen, but I have not been told how. I hope that today, at the 6th time of asking, I will be told.” [She was not].
High court gives ministers deadline of April for draft of tougher air pollution plan and final by 31st July 2017
On 2nd November, environmental lawyers ClientEarth inflicted a humiliating legal defeat on the UK government (the 2nd in 18 months) when the high court ruled that DEFRA plans to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in many parts of the UK were unlawful. The court gave the government 7 days to agree on the next steps, but it rejected the proposal from ClientEarth for an 8 month timetable for the improvements, saying it needed till September 2017. Now the high court judge, Mr Justice Garnham, has ruled that DEFRA must must publish a stronger air quality draft plan by 24th April 2017 and a final one by 31st July 2017. The judge also ordered the government to publish the data on which it will base its new plan. In his judgement on 2nd, the judge said it was “remarkable” that ministers knew they were using over-optimistic pollution modelling, based on flawed lab tests of diesel vehicles rather than actual emissions on the road, but proceeded anyway. He also ruled that ClientEarth can go back to court if it deems the government’s draft plan, due in April 2017, is once again not good enough to cut pollution rapidly. Alan Andrews, ClientEarth’s air quality lawyer, said: “We will be watching on behalf of everyone living in the UK and will return to court if the government is failing.” ClientEarth believes measure such as a diesel scrappage scheme and other measures that would cost money, that the Treasury has been unwilling to approve.
Environmental Audit Cttee finds Treasury failing to take long-term environmental costs into account
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has done an investigation into the role of the Treasury in relation to sustainable development and environmental protection. The EAC is calling for the Treasury to “green-check” all its decisions, after its major investigation found that the Treasury puts short term priorities over long term sustainability – potentially increasing costs to the economy in the future. [The Treasury has been a key promoter of a new south east runway, with Treasury staff helping the Airports Commission.] EAC Chair, Mary Creagh, said: “The Treasury is highly influential and uniquely placed to ensure the whole of Government works to promote sustainability. But we have seen considerable evidence that it fails to do this.The Treasury tends not to take full account of the long term environmental costs and benefits of decisions which would reduce costs for taxpayers and consumers in the long run. On the carbon capture and storage competition and zero carbon homes we saw the Treasury riding roughshod over departments, cancelling long-established environmental programmes at short notice with no consultation, costing businesses and the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. With a week to go until the next Autumn Statement, we hope our inquiry will be a wake-up call to the Treasury.”
Councils and campaigners take first step towards legal challenge against government support for Heathrow runway
Solicitors Harrison Grant acting on behalf of Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead Councils, together with Greenpeace and a Hillingdon resident have (17th November) sent a letter, under the Judicial Review Pre-Action Protocol, to the Secretary of State for Transport. The letter gives the Government a period of 14 days in which to withdraw its decision, issued on the 25 October to support a 3rd runway at Heathrow. If it fails to do so, judicial review proceedings will be commenced in the High Court, without further notice to the Government, on the basis that the Government’s approach to air quality and noise is unlawful and also that it has failed to carry out a fair and lawful consultation exercise prior to issuing its decision. The 33 page pre-action letter sets out comprehensive grounds for legal challenge, drawing on a broad range of statute and legal precedent, as well as highlighting the many promises and statements made by senior politicians confirming that the third runway would not be built. The move comes shortly after the Government’s air quality plans were overturned in the High Court, putting ministers under greater pressure to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in places like Heathrow. The latest court ruling rejected the current government plans to tackle emissions as inadequate and based on over optimistic assumptions.