Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

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

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”. 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.

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What Heathrow’s 3rd runway proposal says on carbon emissions and air quality (very little)

Just taking the parts on carbon emissions and air quality from Heathrow's promotional document for its 3rd runway, the claims can be seen to be ambitious, or perhaps unrealistic. Tellingly they forget to mention carbon emissions in the press release, other than to say there is one of their 10 "commitments" (no indication how these are to be enforced) that they will "Keep CO2 emissions within UK climate change targets". This appears to be largely on hopes of more efficient operation, plus planes as yet unbuilt, carbon trading systems as yet not in existence, and new fuels (they don't actually mention biofuels), which also do not exist. On local air quality standards, which the Heathrow area currently often breaches, Heathrow says it wants a local congestion charge to reduce vehicle journeys, a lot more public transport (paid for by taxpayer?) and another commitment (enforcement?) to "Increase the proportion of passengers using public transport to access Heathrow to more than 50%". They also depend on road vehicle engines in future emitting less NO2 than at present.

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Supreme Court rules UK Government is breaking air pollution laws

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the government has failed to meet European air pollution limits. Britain will therefore face European fines and may have to drastically reduce the use of heavy goods vehicles and cars in some of the UK’s major cities. Much of the problem is from diesel vehicles. The Supreme Court said "The way is open for immediate enforcement action at national and European level.” The government had been challenged by ClientEarth (lawyers who work on environmental issues) because of air quality concerns in 15 cities and regions across the UK, including London ( where one area that is very bad is around the Heathrow area), Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. The low air quality is already having a marked effect on health, and ClientEarth felt the only way to get the UK government to act on the matter was legal action. The UK has so far made repeated attempts to get the air quality limits weakened or delayed. The European Court of Justice will have to clear up some legal issues, so the UK government may be able to play for time and delay doing anything for a year or so. The infringement action to be taken has not yet been decided. This will have an impact on Heathrow expansion plans.

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