Air Quality

News about aviation and air quality

Council leaders, representing the 2M group, say Airports Commission air quality consultation is “not credible or realistic”

The Airports Commission has published a highly technical consultation on air quality, with only 14 working days for responses (3 weeks). It is presented in a way to make it very hard indeed for non-experts to understand. Now speaking on behalf of the cross-party 2M Group, which represents 20 Councils, the leader of Hillingdon Council (Ray Puddifoot), the leader of Richmond Council (Lord True) and cabinet member for environmental services at Windsor & Maidenhead (Carwyn Cox) have complained to the Commission about their consultation. They say it is "not credible or realistic”. Ray Puddifoot said it is not credible or realistic to imagine Heathrow could vastly increase flights, passenger numbers and its freight operation, but with no extra traffic on local roads, or more pollution. He said a 3rd runway would increase pollution levels for roughly 47,000 homes and break EU NO2 limits. Lord True asked why the Commission is estimating pollution levels in 2030, long before the expanded airport is at full capacity, and road traffic is at its peak. Carwyn Cox said the Commission is "gambling” on road vehicles producing fewer emissions in future, and on a congestion charge zone which “are not going to happen”. Many of the same arguments apply to Gatwick too.

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West Sussex council considering congestion charge idea for people travelling to Gatwick

The idea of introducing a congestion charge, if a 2nd runway is built at Gatwick, has been mooted by West Sussex County Council. It is one of several possible mitigation measures mentioned in a draft report produced by the WSCC in response to the Airports Commission’s recent consultation on air quality. If a Gatwick 2nd runway is recommended, West Sussex County Council has called for action to achieve high public transport access and congestion-free road access. Gatwick only has one major road link, and one rail link. If more passengers arrive by rail, there will be serious congestion on the trains. If the passengers arrive by car, there will be road congestion, as well as more air pollution - including more NO2. Gatwick airport has made the rather daft statement that "Gatwick has never breached legal air quality limits and its location means it can guarantee that it never will." Gatwick, predictably, hopes air quality would stay within legal limits without the introduction of a deeply unpopular congestion charge. WSCC says though the effectiveness of a congestion charge at Gatwick has not been assessed, it might have an impact on car mode share and overall traffic demand. The matter will be discussed by full council on 23rd May.

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West Kent parish councils complain that the Airports Commission air quality consultation period is too short

The Airports Commission was aware, when it put out its main consultation in November 2014, that it had still to produce work on air quality. They finally publicised their consultation the day after the election - 8th May - saying they could not put it out during the pre-election "purdah" period. That left just 14 working days for respondents to reply. The consultation is highly technical, and not something it is easy for a non-expert to read. Another document was added on Monday 18th, leaving only 8 working days till the consultation ends. Now four West Kent parishes have called for more time to put together a "correct and democratic answer". Richard Streatfield, chairman of the High Weald Parish Councils Aviation Action Group, which covers Chiddingstone, Hever, Leigh and Penshurst authorities, said they would be asking Sir Howard to extend the consultation by nine weeks. A number of new High Weald councillors had just been elected, and they need more time to get understand the issues and gather a lot of information before they can agree on it. The Commission is in a rush, as Sir Howard joins the board of RBS at the end of June, and becomes its chairman on 1st September. The Commission therefore wants to make its announcement in June, but the undesirable rush for this consultation means the democratic process is being subverted.

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Research indicates further work needed on impact of air pollution on the brain

Research was carried out by researchers in the US, into the impact of higher levels of small particle air pollution on older adults and the chance of someone having signs of a "silent stroke" on a brain scan. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Stroke. The study had various limitations,and reports may have exaggerated its findings. While there was an association between particulate matter in the air and total brain volume, this was no longer statistically significant after taking into account whether people have conditions such as high blood pressure, which can also affect their risk of stroke. While the news extrapolated these findings to suggest a link between air pollution and people’s risk of dementia, this is not what the study assessed. The study found some evidence of a link between one measure of air pollution and "silent stroke", but the limitations mean that this finding needs to be confirmed in other studies. Some have interpreted the study as indicating that air pollution is associated with insidious effects on structural brain ageing. The mechanism through which this might happen are unclear, but could involve inflammation. More research is needed.

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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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