Heathrow’s third runway to fall foul of EU rules

11.1.2009   (Independent on Sunday)

Ministers will give a green light to the airport’s extension, but critics say
Europe’s pollution targets could prevent it from being built

By Geoffrey Lean and Brian Brady

Heathrow’s controversial third runway – due to be given the green light by ministers
this week – is unlikely ever to be built because it will fall foul of new European
pollution laws, environmentalists and senior government advisers believe.


The airport’s two existing runways already cause air pollution which breaches
compulsory European Union air-quality standards, which Britain will have to observe
by 2015.   Neither anti-runway campaigners nor the Government’s Environment Agency
see how these can possibly be met if the number of flights rises by 50 per cent
as planned.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have vowed to block the new runway
if they are in a position to do so after the next election. They plan to force
a parliamentary vote on the project, which would be almost certain to attract
Labour rebels.

The go-ahead – pencilled in for confirmation by Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of
State for Transport, on Thursday – is to be presented as the centrepiece of a
New Deal-style series of public works,
like the one president-elect Barack Obama is expected to push through in the
US after taking office later this month.

In an attempt to reduce the impact of one of the most hotly contested planning
decisions for years, the move will be accompanied by a list of multibillion-pound
projects designed to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to improving transport
and other facilities across the nation.

It will be linked to the establishment of “an international rail hub” at the
airport, the Crossrail project, preparations for the London Olympics and plans
to accelerate the Government’s school-building programme.

Ministers will also insist that the plans for the runway will have to ensure
that the air around Heathrow – already polluted by road traffic as well as by
existing flights – does not breach EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, due to come into force next year.   Britain can apply for a five-year delay but will have to observe them by 2015.

The British Airports Authority says that new technology and cleaner planes will
reduce pollution as to enable the standards to be met, but critics do not see
how this can be done if flights rise to more than 700,000 a year, when the existing
480,000 already help to put parts of the area over the limit.

Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, said yesterday that the runway
could not go ahead unless “very strict pollution limits” were set.     He was sceptical
that the EU standards could be met, and would prefer that the runway was not built.

John Stewart, the chairman of Hacan Clearskies, which leads opposition to the
project, said yesterday: “The runway will never see the light of day.”

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