On day of appearance before the EAC, Heathrow “pledges” a (dubious) “triple lock” on air pollution

Heathrow knows it has a problem with the high levels of NO2 pollution (and actually also particulates) in its surrounding area, and these regularly already breach EU limits. Appearing in front of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on 4th November, John Holland-Kaye and Matt Gorman attempted to convince the MPs that Heathrow could solve the problems and add a new runway without local air pollution getting worse.  Mr Holland-Kaye repeated his intention that there would be a pledge by Heathrow for a “triple lock” on air quality under plans for a third runway. He wants people to believe that there would be (sic) no more car journeys to Heathrow with 3 runways than with 2. People would almost all travel to Heathrow on public transport, and likewise almost all staff at the airport. Heathrow would have options “ready” if needed to cut traffic flows and emissions, such as a congestion charge. And also more flights would only be allowed on the 3rd runway, if it was clear “the airport’s contribution would not delay compliance with EU air quality limits.” Challenged by the EAC there was the usual unconfirmed spin about jobs and growth, and no convincing evidence that NO2 air pollution could be reduced with a new runway.  The Airports Commission appears to have misunderstood the EU air quality directives, implying a runway would be permissible as long as air pollution was worse somewhere else in London.

The full EAC session on 4th November can be viewed on Parliament TV at  http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Commons

The full transcript of the 4th November session will be available at



Heathrow Chief Executive pledges guarantee on air quality limits with expansion

[Beware – read with eyes wide open, and a pinch of salt ….  AW note]

4.11.2015 (Heathrow airport press release)

  • Heathrow promises “triple lock” guarantee to keep air quality within EU legal limits, should Heathrow be allowed to expand
  • Airports Commission’s environmental caveats for Heathrow expansion explained

Giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye confirmed that Heathrow expansion can be delivered within EU air quality limits and without increasing the amount of airport-related vehicles on the roads compared to today. [That should read that he “confirmed that he hopes Heathrow expansion can be delivered …etc. AW note]. 

Mr Holland-Kaye explained that a “triple lock” guarantee would address the air quality surrounding the airport, should Heathrow be allowed to expand. [Why is it not doing everything possible to improve air quality now, regardless of a new runway?  AW note] 

The three elements of the triple lock are:

1. Meeting our existing commitment to improve air quality: 

by supporting [not necessarily paying for … AW note] improved surface access that would increase the number of people, both passengers and employees, using public transport and encouraging and incentivising the use of new technology and cleaner vehicles [how exactly? Heathrow cannot influence the take up of electric cars in the UK market. AW note]. . This will include new rail lines to the north, east and west of Heathrow that will be transformational and put Heathrow at the heart of an integrated transport system. The Airports Commission is confident that this will enable an expanded Heathrow to meet EU air quality limits. [It is widely considered that the Airports Commission misinterpreted the EU law on air quality. AW note]

2. Ensuring further options are ready to be introduced if required to reduce traffic:

In its plans for expansion Heathrow has a number of options available to improve air quality that can be implemented if needed. An airport congestion charge is a good example as, if needed, Heathrow believes it would help to reduce road journeys, reduce emissions and support more sustainable travel patterns. [Widely believed to be impractical. Another was ?? refrigeration units for plane engines on the ground, to cool them and emit less NOx ?? AW note ].

3. Binding our commitment: 

by guaranteeing that new capacity at an expanded airport will only be released when it is clear that the airport’s contribution will not delay compliance with EU air quality limits. [As revealed at the EAC hearing, it is implausible that Heathrow funders and share holders would accept paying £18 billion for a runway, to then find it could not be used, for air quality reasons.  Zac Goldsmith asked aboutt his at the EAC and JH-K could only say he was very confident that Heathrow would get people out of their cars. AW note.]


Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said:

“Heathrow expansion is not a choice between the economy or the environment – we can deliver both.  [Highly unlikely]  We will boost the economy for the whole of the UK by £211 billion, [utter rubbish – even the figure of “up to £147 billion over 60 years, from the Airports Commission has been seriously criticised, even by the Commission’s own economics advisors, let alone £211 billion.  AW note] create 180,000 jobs, the potential to eliminate local youth unemployment, and double the number of our apprenticeships, while ensuring we remove people from our noise footprint and meet both EU air quality limits and carbon targets.”  [This is just PR speak, carefully worded to give the right impression, but with little real content.  AW note]

While some of the Commission’s recommendations are dependent on action from other parties, including government and airlines, others are within Heathrow’s control and are already being worked on.

Heathrow is today:

  • Supporting the Airports Commission’s suggestion for the establishment of an independent aviation noise authority, with a statutory right to be consulted on flight paths and other operating procedures
  • Charging fines for aircraft breaking departure noise limits and re-investing that money in local community projects. [Note, this money does not come from Heathrow itself,. Its apparent generosity comes from airlines.  AW note] This year, Heathrow increased the amount it charges for all noise breaches, and introduced a sliding scale of fines that will charge more for noise made during sensitive early morning periods
  • Working with partners to deliver projects such as Crossrail [Note that Heathrow wriggled out of paying £230 million for Crossrail, and only paid £70 million. AW note] and Western Rail to increase public transport use by passengers to over 50% by the time another runway is operational, and providing additional avenues to reduce staff car use, including by hosting Europe’s largest car share scheme.
  • Proposing a world-class noise insulation scheme worth over £700 million [This amounts to only about £4,400 per house, spread over the 160,000 homes included.  That amount per house does not go far, if there are perhaps 6 – 8 windows and a door …. AW note]
  • Offering one of the country’s most generous property compensation schemes for a major infrastructure project, with proposals to offer those within the compulsory purchase zone as well as in close proximity to the airport to buy their homes at 25% above their un-blighted market, in addition to stamp duty and legal fee costs  [ie. making thousands homeless by compulsory purchase. And what has this got to do with air quality at Heathrow improving? AW note] 
  • Doubling apprenticeships to 10,000, and working to expand the training work of the Heathrow Academy, now celebrating its 11th anniversary. [What has that got to do with the air pollution problem?  PR and press department just left it in, for good effect?  AW note] 

Heathrow’s environmental approach has won the ACI’s Eco-Innovation Award, the GreenFleet Awards for our electric vehicle fleet, the 2014 award Transport Team of the Year award at the London Transport Awards for our sustainable commuting efforts  and earned the airport its 8th biodiversity benchmark award.

After three years of research, scrutiny and consultation, the Airports Commission has made a unanimous and unambiguous recommendation for expansion at Heathrow. Heathrow has taken a new approach to its expansion proposals, one which balances the needs of airport users with the concerns of people living nearby.


Notes to editors:

A congestion charge is one more scheme Heathrow has said it could introduce to reduce traffic congestion levels and improve air quality for local communities while raising money for public transport improvements. The scheme would only be considered following widespread consultation and once public transport alternatives are in place.

Heathrow has said that any revenue raised would be ring fenced and could be used to fund public transport projects at the airport and local sustainable transport projects.

For more information, please see:



“London mayoral candidate and Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith asked Mr Holland-Kaye if he expected the Government to make a decision on expansion “in the absence of clarity from you on that very core condition” of night flights.

Mr Holland-Kaye replied: “I think that is a question for government. I do see that there are no showstoppers in the conditions that were set by the Airports Commission and as Matt has said I think there is an opportunity to significantly reduce the night flights at Heathrow.”

Heathrow is currently restricted to 5,800 take-offs and landings between 11.30pm to 6am.

Around 80% of the night flights at Heathrow are between 4.30am to 6am.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed the select committee session showed that the Airports Commission is “falling apart”.

He said: “I have never accepted that a third runway at Heathrow is the right solution even with all of the Airports Commission’s conditions, but Mr Holland-Kaye’s flat refusal to rule out the possibility of a fourth runway or to commit to conditions to limit air pollution, night flights and noise shows that he simply doesn’t understand that the recommendation of a third runway is crucially tied to these conditions.

“As so often with Heathrow in the past, it is all take and no give. Today’s hearings, apart from showing that Heathrow is willing to undermine the Airports Commission in pursuit of its own ends, prove once again that Heathrow expansion is the wrong solution to Britain’s aviation needs.”  ”

from   http://home.bt.com/news/uk-news/heathrow-bosses-committed-to-reducing-night-flights-if-third-runway-built-11364014725410


Heathrow’s pledges on air pollution in runway battle



Heathrow bosses today pledged a “triple lock” on air quality under plans for a third runway — but it failed to guarantee pollution would be cut.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye unveiled proposals aimed at addressing fears that another runway would lead to dirtier air around the airport. Their three key points are:

– Meeting the airport’s “existing commitment” on air quality including pledging to have no more airport-related traffic on the roads round the airport with a third runway.

– Having options “ready” if needed to cut traffic flows and emissions, such as a congestion charge.

– Guaranteeing new capacity at an expanded airport would only be released when it was clear that the airport’s contribution would not delay compliance with EU air quality  limits.

Mr Holland-Kaye, [who appeared] before the Commons environmental audit committee today on the third runway plans, said: “Heathrow expansion is not a choice between the economy or the environment — we can deliver both. We will boost the economy for the whole of the UK by £211 billion, create 180,000 jobs, the potential to eliminate local youth unemployment, and double the number of our apprenticeships, while ensuring fewer people are impacted by aircraft noise than today and we meet both EU air quality limits and carbon targets.”

However, critics are likely to point out that the “triple lock” does not pledge that pollution will be reduced or that a third runway would only be built, or operated, if it did not locally breach EU air quality limits.

New research claims that levels of nitrogen dioxide outside some homes close to Heathrow were sometimes about double EU rules, but the airport questioned these findings.

The Airports Commission, which strongly recommended that Heathrow rather than Gatwick be allowed to expand, argued that a third runway could happen provided it did not delay London complying with EU pollution regulations.

But this appeared to suggest that air quality could stay the same or even deteriorate around the airport if there were worse pollution blackspots in the capital.

Gatwick today published its response on air quality, saying “a third runway at Heathrow would mean millions more car journeys.”




Pollution around Heathrow threatens third runway plan

4.11.2015 (The Times)

Pollution levels around Heathrow are more than twice the legal limit, causing fresh demands to abandon plans for a third runway.

Research published yesterday found that levels of toxic gas in gardens close to the airport were regularly 125 per cent higher than maximum thresholds set out by the EU.
Meeting EU air quality standards has become one of the most critical issues determining aviation capacity in the southeast, with David Cameron due to decide on the issue within weeks.

The disclosure was made as the bosses of Heathrow and the government’s airports commission prepared to be questioned today by MPs investigating the environmental impact of the runway. Gatwick, Heathrow’s main rival, warned that pollution levels in west London were now worse than they were five years ago, insisting that there could be no “legal basis for approving Heathrow expansion”.

The airports commission, headed by Sir Howard Davies, decisively recommended in July that Heathrow should expand because it would generate greater economic benefits, including more jobs and profitable long-haul routes, than Gatwick. Controversially, it insisted that the environmental impact of expansion “does not outweigh its very significant national and local benefits” when mitigation measures were taken into account.

Heathrow insists that greener aircraft, changes to landing approaches and reforms designed to stop people driving to the airport — the biggest cause of pollution in the area — will enable it to achieve long-term pollution targets. This includes a link to the Crossrail network and new direct rail access to Reading and Waterloo.

EU regulations state that emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is linked to 23,500 deaths in the UK each year, should be limited to 40 micrograms per cubic metre ( m3).
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is consulting on a wide-ranging strategy designed to improve UKair quality, including banning the worst diesel vehicles from up to a dozen of the most polluted urban areas.

Yesterday, a study by OpenSensors, a data management company, found that pollution levels near Heathrow regularly exceeded the 40 m3 standard.

The study, which placed sensors in 20 residential gardens around west London, found that NO2 reached an average of 70 m3 at Sipson, just over half a mile north of Heathrow, with highs regularly exceeding 90 m3, 125 per cent higher than the permitted standard. The research, funded by Open Data Institute, showed that readings in Isleworth, which is six miles east of Heathrow, reached up to 75 m3.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “We take air quality issues very seriously. The airports commission has been clear that Heathrow can expand while remaining within EU legal limits.”




See also:

AEF considers DEFRA’s updated air quality plan is insufficient to address Heathrow’s pollution challenge


Air pollution around Heathrow has been in breach of legal limits for many years and could prove a significant barrier to a 3rd runway. At the time of the Airports Commission’s recommendation this summer, the Government’s modelling indicated that breaches of the NO2 limit in London would continue until and perhaps beyond 2030. Under the Commission’s plan a new Heathrow runway could be operational by 2025, and would be likely to further worsen air quality in the Heathrow area. AEF reports that Defra has now published an updated air quality ‘plan’, in response to the Supreme Court ruling in April that the Government’s strategy would fail to achieve EU legal limits in the ‘shortest time possible’ and must be improved. Under the revised plan, NO2 would be within legal limits by 2025 throughout London. But the improvements compared with the earlier plan appear to relate almost entirely to new, more optimistic assumptions being made about emissions from diesel vehicles rather than to any new policies or strategies at a national level. The only significant new proposal relates to the formation of Clean Air Zones in order to restrict high emissions vehicles. The AEF does not consider that the measures can deal adequately with air pollution around Heathrow, with a new runway.



‘Clean Air in London’ obtains QC Opinion on Air Quality Law (including at Heathrow)

The group, Clean Air in London (CAL), is very aware of the problems of air quality in London. Its founder and director, Simon Birkett, says the law about air pollution is not being properly applied. So they have asked their environmental solicitors, Harrison Grant, to obtain advice from a QC on the approach which planning authorities across the UK should take to Air Quality Law. CAL wants to ensure that tough decisions to reduce air pollution and protect public health are taken by the Government, the Mayor and other planning authorities. In particular CAL wanted to clarify the extent to which planning decisions should take into account breaches, or potential breaches, of air pollution limits. This applies particularly to a Heathrow runway, among other projects. CAL now have advice from Robert McCracken QC. It says: “Where a development would in the locality either make significantly worse an existing breach or significantly delay the achievement of compliance with limit values it must be refused.” And “Any action which significantly increases risk to the health of the present generation, especially the poor who are often those most directly affected by poor air quality, would not be compatible with the concept as health is plainly a need for every generation.

Click here to view full story…

Chairman of Commons Environmental Audit Committee says Cameron must answer questions on Heathrow expansion

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recently set up an Inquiry on the “Airports Commission report: Carbon emissions, air quality and noise.” It closed on 3rd September. A considerable number of submissions have been made, from councils, organisations, individuals (and a few from the aviation industry or its consultants). The Chairman of the Committee, Hugh Irranca-Davies, has said that the Government has “big questions to answer” over how it could meet the legally binding EU air quality rules while backing a 3rd Heathrow runway. The submissions, including the one from Transport for London (Boris Johnson) raised a series of objections to a bigger Heathrow. Boris said: “The Commission has failed to demonstrate that a three-runway Heathrow, even with mitigation, will not have the worst NO2 concentration in Greater London, so risking the compliance of the entire zone and EU fines on the UK.” He said the Commission failed to recognise the impact of increased road traffic. Clean Air in London said: “If the Commission is suggesting that the only relevant requirement is that additional runway capacity should not delay in time average compliance throughout the London zone, then it has misdirected itself on the law.” Sections on air quality from a number of submissions are shown in this article.

Click here to view full story…

Heathrow refuses to backtrack on misleading claim that “M4 pollution will be fixed by 2020″

 28 OCTOBER, 2015
(Colnbrook Views)


New analysis by Defra “has confirmed” that the M4 near Heathrow will meet EU air quality standards by 2020, the airport says.  But the airport has given a frosty response to Colnbrook Views when challenged that Defra’s draft findings actually say the opposite.

Conflicting messages: Heathrow says the M4 nearest the airport will be compliant by 2020 based on defra's draft plans. But defra's plans show the stretch around J5 won't be while J4B is not included. "Not out problem", says Heathrow.

Talk to Defra! is Heathrow’s blunt response to questioning on its claim that pollution on the M4 will meet the EU standard by 2020.

The unsubstantiated claim on October 12 that went (nearly) unnoticed was delivered among a flurry of media releases in the past few weeks trumpeting record passenger numbers and even better freight figures in the run-up to the Government’s decision on a Colnbrook Runway.

New analysis by defra has confirmed that the M4 near Heathrow will meet EU air quality standards by 2020 as a result of actions taken by us and others

But rather than anything “new” the unattributed statement turns out to a reference to a diagram on one page of defra’s draft plan to improve air quality in Greater London (fig.7, p.30), and is contradicted within defra’s equivalent plan for the South East.

Why defra’s analysis is anything but confirmed:

  • The plan is draft (out for consultation until November 6 and currently under scrutiny by the EFRA Parliamentary committee). It is not yet confirmed.
  • The draft plan has been widely criticised for including more optimistic assumptions on diesel emissions (compared to July 2014) which have subsequently been found to be far removed from real world emissions in light of the VW scandal.
  • The draft plan indicates that emissions will be close to or at the upper limit on a small stretch of the M4 immediately north of Heathrow in the Greater London agglomeration, while the South East zone plan includes an assessment by Slough Borough Council that its part of the M4 will NOT be compliant by 2020 – where the new runway will go.
  • There is no suggestion in the draft plan that WHO guideline levels (the definition of “safe” air which the EU also acknowledges) will be met. The plan indicates EU air quality objectives and limits will be met (at least for Greater London) but not standards.


The draft plan for the ‘Greater London agglomeration’ includes a stretch of the M4 from Longford eastward – incorporating 3 of the 4 miles of M4 immediately north of the airport.  According to defra’s forecasts this area will be registering between 30-40 µg/m³ by 2020.  40 µg/m³ is the legal limit which is currently greatly exceeded.

But the M4 west of the airport is part of the ‘South East zone’, for which the picture is not so clear cut.  While defra says it expects the zone to achieve minimum EU limits by 2020, as highlighted byColnbrook Views a month ago buried deep in the 260-page draft plan (p.226) is contradictory information. Slough Borough Council says that it does not expect to achieve compliance without “significant intervention”.  AQMA 1, which includes Brands Hill and parts of the M4 west of Heathrow, will still exceed safe levels of air pollution.

A missing mile of the M4 between Longford and the M25 is covered by neither zone!  Harmondsworth, Sipson and Longford residents find themselves in the curious position of being outside of all EU air quality reporting according to defra’s plans.

The forgotten Heathrow Villages ... outside of all zones for EU air quality reporting!

Heathrow Senior Press Officer Paloma Aguilar’s initial response to Colnbrook Views yesterday was to issue the usual boilerplate quote attributable to ‘a Heathrow spokesperson’ that Government needs to do more:

“Road traffic, the most serious issue for London’s air quality, needs to be urgently tackled by government and the Mayor’s office – and Heathrow is willing to do more to play its part. Through investments in public transport use, and electric vehicle infrastructure, Heathrow has already reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 16% over five years.”

But on being pushed further on whether it was misleading to state so categorically that that the M4 nearest Heathrow will be compliant with EU air quality standards by 2020 in spite of the opposing statements in the “new analysis”:

… this is analysis by defra so questions around their methods and comments on the confidence in their findings should be directed to them

Needless to say Heathrow has opted not to highlight the conflicting statements itself.

Colnbrook Views has taken the Heathrow Press Office’s advice and passed these questions on to defra, including Heathrow’s claims, and is awaiting clarification.