Heathrow plans to charge motorists £15 to enter ‘congestion cordon’ around airport to tackle toxic air
Heathrow knows it has an insuperable problem with air pollution if it was allowed a 3rd runway. Levels of NO2 are already often illegal, in many places. Now Heathrow is considering imposing a new “H-charge” on motorists who arrive or leave the airport by car. This is intended to reduce air pollution, and get more passengers to travel by rail (already pretty crowded). The idea is for a charge of £10 – 15 for everyone, including taxis and public hire vehicles, for each trip. Not surprisingly, avid backers of the Heathrow runway like Sir Howard Davies and Lord Adonis think the charge is a great idea. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is understood to believe that some form of low emission zone around the airport will be needed. The government has made (rather hard to believe) assurances that a 3rd runway would only be allowed to operate if it can do so within air quality limits. (Which it cannot). Most of the NO2 and particulate pollution in the area is from road vehicles; a high proportion of those are Heathrow associated; a proportion comes from planes. The exact proportions are not known – yet. Heathrow likes to give the impression hardly any is from planes (not true). Heathrow airport says it will consult on the proposals for charging, and details of how it might work – but it is seen as a “last resort” to tackle its air pollution problems. It would be very, very unpopular with travellers and taxi/Uber drivers.
Plans to charge motorists £15 to enter ‘congestion cordon’ around Heathrow airport to tackle toxic air
BY NICHOLAS CECIL (Deputy Political Editor, STANDARD)
A new “H-charge” on motorists to tackle toxic air around Heathrow as part of plans for a third runway was today backed by two of Britain’s leading airport experts.
Sir Howard Davies, who chaired Britain’s Airports Commission, suggested a levy of £10 to £15 could be imposed on holidaymakers, business executives and other travellers seeking to drive polluting vehicles to the west London airport.
Lord Adonis, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, also backs a “congestion cordon” around a bigger Heathrow.
While Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is understood to believe that some form of low emission zone around the airport will be needed. He has stressed that another runway will only be allowed to operate if it can do so within air quality limits.
Currently, EU limits on nitrogen dioxide are widely breached across London including around Heathrow, largely due to road traffic levels.
In an interview with the Standard, Sir Howard, whose panel two years ago recommended a third Heathrow runway, said: “When we looked at this, congestion charging to the airport was something that people regarded as pretty extreme. But I think now, the congestion charge is hardly controversial in London any more.”
The former director of the London School of Economics added: “The idea that you should have to pay, you know, ten quid or 15 quid if you really want to drive to the airport and maybe you pay more if you are in a diesel car, I think that is a perfectly politically acceptable thing.“Indeed, I think it would be popular.”
Former Labour Transport Secretary Lord Adonis believes persuading millions more passengers to get to the airport by far better public transport links, including new Crossrail services, will be crucial.
He said: “I would support a cordon charge around Heathrow to ensure the number of vehicles going to and from the airport is reduced even after the new runway is built. The charge level should be set to ensure there is a reduction in the number of vehicles going to and from Heathrow.”
Nima Fash, 24, said it would be ‘like getting charged twice’. Bosses at the airport have committed to consulting on proposals to introduce a charge, though, a source stressed this was seen as a “last resort” to tackle any air pollution problems.
The plans at the moment would be for the levy only to apply to vehicles going to the airport and there could be exemptions in place for the greenest vehicles, taxis and local residents.
Nigel Milton, Heathrow’s director of communications, said: “We have been clear that even as the airport grows, the amount of airport-related traffic on the road will remain the same as today’s levels.
“This is something we have been able to achieve in the past – over the last twenty years, passenger numbers have nearly doubled whilst airport-related traffic has remained static.”
However, John Stewart, chairman of anti-Heathrow expansion group HACAN, questioned whether air passengers would find it “acceptable” to pay a levy to drive to the airport.
“It would be a very brave politician who introduced such a tough and potentially unpopular measure,” he said. “The very fact that it’s even being talked about shows that people realise how difficult it will be to control air pollution at a bigger Heathrow.”
A particular problem is the number of freight lorries, with Heathrow being such a big port for international trade.
To address this, airport chiefs are considering new consolidation centres around the airport, to reduce the number of deliveries to it, and investing in technology to help freight forwarders and cargo operators pool their freight loads.
To get far more passengers using public transport to and from Heathrow would need behavioural change which would be encouraged by increased and also better train, Tube and bus services.
Labour MP Gordon Marsden, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on tourism, leisure and the hospitality industry, called for more evidence about how a congestion charge would work.
He added: “Anything like that would have to be pre-dated by radical improvements in access facilities on London Underground and other public transport for travellers’ luggage given that travellers’ luggage seems to be getting bigger and bigger.”
WHAT SOME PEOPLE SAID TO THE STANDARD ABOUT IT:
Nima Fash, 24, a makeup artist from Wembley
“If it’s just me I don’t mind taking a train, but for example today my aunt was going to Nigeria – it’s not just one suitcase she has, so it’s not that easy to go on the train. What if you have a big suitcase?
“I’m all for reducing pollution. But it’s annoying because you pay to park at the airport as well if you’re staying, so to pay £15 on top is like you’re getting charged twice. I pay for my flight, pay for my parking – and then pay just to come here?”
Raj Rewani, 34, a finance analyst from Harrow
“That’s disgusting, we’re already paying for the flights. It’s absolutely ridiculous – we’re not even in London, this is outside of London.
“If that came in I’d get a cab. But if you want to pick someone up – you’ve got family coming, you want to see them at the airport, you don’t want to send them a random driver. It’s taking away our option of doing that.”
Florin Ursachi, 45, taxi driver
“If they charge £15 here it’s going to be a nightmare. You already have to pay in the short stay car park, and the price has increased.
“People aren’t going to fly from Heathrow anymore, or the drivers are going to have to increase prices. The companies and the cab offices are going to charge the customers for it.”
Marcus Sillence, 53, taxi driver
“The only people that come here are the people that are dropping off or picking up. I can’t see any other way of doing it, people will still have to do that. Whatever costs are involved for us have to be covered by the customers.
“I can’t see it changing much, passengers will just have to pay more. You have to pay at Luton and Stanstead, so they’re only following what the others are doing.”
Mohammed Habbal, 40, Uber driver
“My car is a hybrid, below 40 miles an hour it is electric. I don’t agree with this idea, it’s going to cost too much for drivers.
“Driving to Heathrow from London is not good for me anyway because often there is no one to take back, so with the charge it will not be worth it. It will be like working for free.”
Heathrow expansion plans, and ability to reduce road vehicle trips, threatened by Crossrail costs row
Simon Calder, writing in the Independent, says plans to build a 3rd Heathrow runway could be jeopardised by a row between the airport’s owners and Transport for London (TfL). Heathrow Terminals 2, 3 and 4 are expected to be served by the new Crossrail east-west line, which is due to open in May 2018. But Heathrow is demanding very high fees from rail users to pay back the estimated £1 billion cost of the privately funded Heathrow Express spur from the Great Western line – into the airport. That opened in 1998. The Office of Rail and Road said that Heathrow could not recoup the historical costs of building this link. Heathrow challenged this decision, and a legal judgment is expected shortly. If the ruling is in favour of Heathrow, TfL may choose not to serve the airport at all — which would throw into doubt predictions of the proportion of passengers using public transport if a 3rd runway was built. The NPS for the runway requires a higher proportion of passengers and staff to use public transport in future, than now. One of Crossrail’s selling points has been easy access to Heathrow from east London and the City, down to 34 minutes from Liverpool Street to Heathrow. “Without straightforward, low-cost rail links, more airline passengers may opt to go by road to Heathrow — adding to pollution, congestion and noise.”
DfT data show Hounslow, Hillingdon & Slough (all near Heathrow) have the most heavily used roads in UK
There are more than twice as many vehicles on the roads of two west London boroughs than anywhere else in the UK. The DfT figures show Hounslow to have considerably more road traffic even that the second busiest borough, Hillingdon. Both are close to Heathrow, and much of the traffic is associated with the airport. In 2016, 8,339 vehicles passed an average point in the Hounslow road network every day, a marginal increase from 8,240 the previous year. This is more than twice as many than the national average, where a typical stretch of road would see 3,587 vehicles a day. Hillingdon had 7,889 vehicles using the average stretch of its road network daily. The figures were also very high in other boroughs in west London, such as Ealing, Brent and Harrow. Another area near Heathrow, Slough, had 7,576 vehicles per hour. Road use is at the highest level it has ever been across the country due to steady growth in car traffic. Heathrow hopes to increase its number of passengers, with a 3rd runway, by about 50% and to double the volume of air freight. It claims that it will try to keep the number of road vehicles to no higher than current levels, though it has no effective means to ensure this. The DfT data shows just how bad the current problem is, even with a 2 runway Heathrow.
Inadequate draft DEFRA air quality plan remains silent on Heathrow 3rd runway impact on NO2
Defra’s new, very weak (due probably to trying not to upset owners of diesel cars in the run-up to the election) air quality plan is not likely to achieve air within legal NO2 limits in parts of London before 2030. A 3rd Heathrow runway would increase levels of NO2 in an area that has remained persistently in breach of legal limits. However, the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) point out that the draft plan does not mention the airport, with emissions associated with a 3rd runway apparently not even modelled. AEF Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said, while we are waiting to see what legal action is taken on UK air quality: “In the meantime ministers are hoping to lock in parliamentary support for Heathrow expansion by the end of the year, despite new forecasts indicating that London may still be non-compliant with air pollution limits by 2030, and despite knowing that a third runway, due to open mid-2020s, would make the problem worse. The process for approving Heathrow expansion should be halted immediately, and reconsulted on only once an effective and legally compliant air quality plan is in place, so that the impact of a third runway can be properly assessed.” Forecasts from both the Airports Commission and the DfT show that expansion would act to further increase NO2 due to extra emissions from aircraft as well as associated passenger and freight traffic on the roads.
Government response to EAC on Heathrow air pollution are vague and entirely unsatisfactory
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) criticised the UK Government for its failure to deal adequately with air pollution from a 3rd Heathrow runway. Before its dissolution, for the general election on 8th June 2017, the EAC published the response by the government (dated 21st April) to questions put to it by the committee in February. The responses on air pollution are not satisfactory. Asked by the EAC to carry out work to reduce the significant health impacts identified, the government just says it is updating “its evidence base on airport capacity as appropriate to ensure that any final NPS is based on the most up to date information” … and that “The Government is determined to meet its air quality obligations and to do so in the shortest time possible.” …”The draft NPS stipulates that final development consent will only be granted if the Secretary of State is satisfied that, with mitigation, the scheme would be compliant with legal air quality requirements.” ie. totally vague, saying almost nothing specific. The EAC said Government must publish a comprehensive assessment of the infrastructure requirements of a 3rd runway and consult on it before publishing a final NPS. The Government just said “necessary changes to the transport system will rightly be considered as part of the statutory planning process.” And so on.