Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

Protesters stage silent air pollution demonstration at Heathrow Terminal 5

Around 50 campaigners have staged a silent protest against air pollution in Heathrow Terminal 5. The protesters wore face masks and t-shirts to make their point that the high air pollution levels in the Heathrow area should rule out its plans for a 3rd runway. The protest was just days after the Airports Commission announced a further consultation into air pollution at Heathrow, and a fortnight after the Supreme Court ordered the UK Government to produce plans by the end of the year on how it intends to tackle pollution across the country. The protesters at Terminal 5 included local people whose homes are threatened by a 3rd runway, activists based at Transition Heathrow and residents whose lives are disturbed by aircraft noise. Air pollution already affects local communities badly, with the amount of road traffic generated by the airport. It will not be possible for Heathrow to guarantee that, with a 3rd runway and an extra quarter of a million planes each year, and associated road vehicle journeys, air pollution levels could be reduced so they meet the EU legal limits. The Airports Commission's consultation closes on 29th May, and its findings will be included in the Commission’s final report which is expected to be published in June.

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Airports Commission rushes out new technical consultation (for just 3 weeks) on air quality

The Airports Commission has, at the last minute, produced a very short (only 3 weeks) consultation on air quality. It says this was not done earlier due to the pre-election "purdah" period when there are restrictions on activities such as consultations by government. The timing, shortly after the ruling by the Supreme Court, that more has to be done by the UK on air quality may, or may not, be coincidental. The consultation ends on 29th May. The Commission aims to make its runway recommendation in June, before Sir Howard starts work at RBS (joining its board at the end of June). The consultation outline is given in a cover note, with one main document, an appendix document, 10 pages of maps, and databases of backing data - over 280 pages. All to be checked through in 21 days, including a Bank Holiday. The November 2014 consultation stated that dispersion modelling still needed to be done. That was not included in time for the main consultation. The Commission has now found some differences between the two Heathrow options. It has looked at a range of "mitigation measures" to reduce the level of NO2, and considers whether these would be enough to keep within legal limits. It is a technical consultation, very difficult for lay people - who are not expert in the area of air quality - to understand.

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Election results put Gatwick runway in doubt – so does surprise air quality consultation by Airports Commission

All eleven MPs elected for the constituencies around Gatwick are opposed to a 2nd runway. Most significant is the result from the marginal seat of Crawley (where a high proportion of the residents are employed directly or indirectly at the airport) – a dramatic win for the Conservative anti-runway candidate, the MP Henry Smith, but defeat for the pro-runway Labour candidate, Chris Oxlade (the vote was 22,829 against 16,303). This makes another runway at Gatwick look increasingly doubtful. This solid bloc of anti-runway MPs will make it difficult for the new Government to push through a new Gatwick runway without the support of some minor Parties. And the Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens are all opposed the runway. Another reason why a Gatwick runway looks less likely is the surprise announcement on polling day by the Airports Commission that they are to hold another (very brief) consultation – on air quality. This is obviously the result of the decision by the Supreme Court that the UK must implement the EU limits on air quality. That may rule out a Gatwick runway, as EU law states that ‘Air quality status should be maintained where it is already good, or improved.’ A new runway would hugely increase the number of road vehicle trips, including lorries. Their emissions would be bound to worsen air quality and would thus be contrary to the EU Directive.

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Airports Commission to carry out a new consultation on air quality impact of runway schemes

The Airports Commission has opened a new public consultation on the the impact of air quality of a new runway. It is thought that the Commission is keen to avert a potential legal challenge to their decision, if the runway would put air quality standards at risk. Only recently the UK Supreme Court ruled that as Britain is still not meeting EU air quality standards, it must quickly produce plans to limit pollution, especially NO2. The FT reports that the consultation would be a very quick, technically focused one, perhaps being completed by the end of May. It is not anticipated to involve any meetings with the general public. Sir Howard Davies is off to become Chairman of RBS, starting that job on 1st September. He joins the RBS board at the end of June. Therefore the runway decision was anticipated during June. If the consultation on air quality is to be thorough enough, and give those consulted adequate time to respond, getting an announcement by the end of June would be very difficult. Parts of the Heathrow area regularly breach air quality limits. Though Gatwick has less of an air quality problem, expanding it to the size Heathrow is now would risk breaching air quality limits - and the Commission should not recommend a development that would mean NO2 limits would be broken.

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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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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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Heathrow hopes of cutting NO2 by congestion charge etc could transfer air quality problems to other areas

Gatwick Airport commissioned a report by ERM to show up the air quality problems at Heathrow, making a 3rd Heathrow a practical impossibility. The ERM report says the air quality mitigations proposed for a Heathrow 3rd runway are too vague to be properly evaluated or quantified in any detail. As the majority of the air pollution is due to road vehicles, many on trips associated with the airport, there needs to be credible detail on how this could be cut. Heathrow has suggested various ways to make small airside cuts in NO2 emissions, and possible measure like incentives for access to the airport by zero or ultra-low emission vehicles. Also, as a last resort, the use of a congestion charge to drive down airport-only related road traffic. But the measures lack the necessary implementation specifics to make them meaningful. Neither do the proposals address the potential consequential effects on road traffic distribution in the wider area around Heathrow. It could well be that the introduction of these sorts of Heathrow traffic measures results in shifts in road traffic congestion, and therefore the transfer the air quality problems to other areas. Just pushing the problem somewhere else.

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Supreme Court hears ClientEarth case on getting faster UK action to comply with legal NO2 limits

The Supreme Court in the UK heard ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government over its failure to meet legal limits for air pollution, for the final time on 16th April. This is the culmination of a 4-year battle in the UK and EU courts. The UK has been in breach of EU NO2 limit values in 16 areas. The Supreme Court case follows the 2014 ruling by the ECJ which held that the UK must have a plan to achieve air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’. The UK Government’s current plans will not meet legal limits for NO2 until after 2030 – almost a quarter of a century after the original deadline. ClientEarth is calling on the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to rapidly deliver cuts to NO2 emissions in towns and cities across the UK. The plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles, which are the main source of NO2 pollution. That is particularly the case around Heathrow. ClientEarth wants Defra to produce the plan within 3 months. Defra's lawyers suggested the plan might be produced before the end of 2015, but there is no indication when all areas would be compliant. As one of the five Supreme Court justices, Lord Carnwath, commented: “Here we are 4 years on without any idea when the Secretary of State thinks it will achieve compliance.” Judgment will probably be given one to three months after the hearing.

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Report by ERM shows Heathrow could not build a new runway and meet air quality standards

Gatwick Airport, keen to show up all the problems with a new Heathrow runway - attempting to promote its own scheme instead - has commissioned a study by ERM (Environmental Resource Management) on Heathrow air quality. The pollutant and averaging period of most relevance around Heathrow is the annual mean limit value for NO2, which is 40 μg/m3 of air. The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 say the Secretary of State must ensure that NO2 annual mean level is not over the limit value of 40 μg/m3 anywhere. Heathrow and the DfT predicted 10 years ago that diesel vehicles would emit much less NO2 by 2015 than they in fact do; diesel emissions from road vehicles have not fallen as fast as was expected. Heathrow is therefore not likely to meet the air quality standard, even without a new runway, till perhaps 2030. The Gatwick-funded ERM report is critical of modelling submitted by Heathrow to the Airports Commission that continues to use outdated emission performance of vehicles. The report says no detailed air quality impact modelling has been conducted since the DfT study 10 years ago. The Airports Commission has also not yet done adequate work on this, and said it would do “more detailed dispersion modelling”. This will probably not be available before the Commission's (June?) announcement.

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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.”

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