Miliband prepared to break pollution laws over Heathrow

26.11.2008   (Evening Standard)

by Nicholas Cecil, Chief Political Correspondent

CLIMATE Change Secretary Ed Miliband today refused to rule out turning a blind
eye to air quality laws to give the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow.

Experts believe that nitrogen dioxide levels will be exceeded for years to come
around Heathrow if it is allowed to grow. They would breach new EU limits due
to come into force by 2015 at the latest.

But Mr Miliband, when asked to give a guarantee that the Government would not
ignore minor breaches of air quality laws to allow another runway, stopped short
of giving such a pledge.

Speaking at an Environment Agency conference in central London, he simply stressed
the importance of putting a price on carbon emissions from aviation, which is
to be included in the European carbon emissions trading scheme, and added: “We
will take the issues of air quality absolutely seriously when we make our decision
about a third runway.”

But EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has warned that the Government
must respect new EU limits on pollution.

Backbench Labour MPs who are opposed to the expansion plans said the new EU laws
were “non-negotiable”. John Grogan MP, who has led a Commons rebellion with Cabinet
support over a third runway, said: “If ministers are not careful, they will find
themselves in court.” Yesterday former Cabinet minister Lord Smith, now chairman
of the Environment Agency, warned that a third runway at Heathrow would make it
“impossible” for the Government to meet legally binding targets on air pollution.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said of Mr Miliband’s remarks: “This
is further evidence that the Government is determined to press ahead with a third
runway at Heathrow regardless of the consequences for the environment, health
and quality of life.”

Aviation chiefs have argued that a third runway is needed to cope with the spiralling
demand for air travel. It would increase Heathrow’s capacity from 480,000 flights
a year to more than 700,000.

The EU Air Quality Directive sets limits for air pollutants, including a level
for NO2 of 40 micrograms/m ³ which is to be achieved by 1st January 2010. Britain
can seek an extension to meet this pollution law but only until 1st January 2015.

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