Heathrow’s vague proposal on air pollution – what is Heathrow really saying?
Heathrow has made some guarded offers to government, attempting to persuade them that environmental problems should not be allowed to block their 3rd runway plans. The offer on air pollution, a key issue meaning Heathrow expansion is likely to be very damaging to health, is vague. Heathrow says (as rather improbably required by the Airports Commission) “New capacity at an expanded airport will not be released unless we can do so without delaying UK compliance with EU air quality limits”. That means, if somewhere else has a worse level. Heathrow says it will “create an ultra-low emissions zone for airport vehicles by 2025.” Airport vehicles only. And Heathrow says “We will develop plans for an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport.” The new Chair of the Environment Audit Cttee, Mary Creagh said the air pollution proposals need “to go much further much faster.” ClientEarth said “We need to see detailed analysis on what these proposals would achieve, but air pollution around the airport needs to be cut drastically before we can think about expansion. It’s difficult to see how that would happen without something far more radical than what’s currently on the table.” AEF said permission for a new runway should only be given if it can be proven that this is compatible with bringing air pollution in the Heathrow area within legal limits.
Heathrow has announced plans for new measures to tackle noise and air pollution in its push towards building a third runway.
Among the ideas put forward by Heathrow today (11 May) is the creation of an ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) for airport vehicles by 2025 and an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport.
Air quality rules
Heathrow also suggests that the Environment Agency be given a new role as an “independent aviation air quality authority”. This said the airport, will “provide transparent scrutiny of the measures Heathrow will introduce to enable it to expand only in accordance with air quality rules.” [This merely means the EA could scrutinise the activities of Heathrow. It does not imply they would have any powers to require Heathrow to do anything. Toothless? AW comment]
Last year the Airports Commission had set air quality conditions for a new runway at Heathrow, outlining that “additional operations at an expanded Heathrow will be contingent on acceptable performance on air quality and will be in accordance with air quality rules.”
The Airports Commission said: “New capacity at an expanded airport will not be released unless we can do so without delaying UK compliance with EU air quality limits”
The details of today’s Heathrow announcement were sent in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron from Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.
Mary Creagh MP
However, the Heathrow package drew a lukewarm response from Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, who argued that the air pollution proposals need “to go much further much faster”.
Ms Creagh said: “Promises on future rail links and air pollution charges are 7-10 years away. People living near the airport need action on air quality much sooner and one quick win would be slashing fares on Heathrow Express to encourage more people to use it.”
The Committee chair added: “Whatever the government decides on airport expansion, it needs a strategy for reducing carbon emissions from aviation. We will scrutinise the government’s plans to limit the noise, air quality, and climate change impacts of a third runway carefully.”
ClientEarth wants clarity over Heathrow air quality plans
Environmental law firm ClientEarth has called for greater detail on the proposals put forward yesterday (12 May) to limit air pollution from a potential third runway at Heathrow Airport.
ClientEarth, which is behind the legal challenge over the government’s plans for tackling air pollution across the UK, has called for ‘detailed analysis’ of the proposals put forward by Heathrow, and how they would help to meet air quality limits.
The organisation also claimed that pollution levels around the airport must be cut ‘drastically’ before expansion can be considered.
Yesterday, a series of measures were outlined as to how the airport would aim to meet air quality limits were it to go-ahead with a third runway (see airqualitynews.com story).
These go further than those proposed by the Airports Commission and include the creation of an ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) for airport vehicles by 2025 and an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport.
Low emission zone
The proposals also indicate that Heathrow would work with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to extend the existing low emission zone to address areas of current non-compliance along the M4 motorway near Heathrow, and to “tighten standards” throughout the entire zone.
According to ClientEarth, the proposals put forward by Heathrow go further than the ‘pathetic’ plans outlined by the government to tackle air quality in the area.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “Last year the UK Supreme Court ordered the government to draw up new plans that would bring air pollution in London within legal limits as soon as possible. Even without expansion, under those new plans the area around Heathrow will continue to be in breach of legal pollution limits until 2025.
“Heathrow has gone further than the government in proposing it be brought within the ultra low emissions zone. That’s definitely an improvement on the Government’s pathetic plans, but it doesn’t get around two fundamental problems.”
Mr Andrews claimed that the steps outlined by Heathrow would likely be necessary to meet emissions limits regardless of whether the third runway proposals go ahead, and he claimed that this should be carried out in conjunction with steps to reduce emissions from diesel cars more widely.
He added: “We need to see detailed analysis on what these proposals would achieve, but air pollution around the airport needs to be cut drastically before we can think about expansion. It’s difficult to see how that would happen without something far more radical than what’s currently on the table.”
Are Heathrow’s concessions enough to address the impacts of a third runway?
Heathrow has announced a series of environmental concessions, based on those proposed by the Airports Commission, which it hopes will persuade the Government to give it permission to build a third runway. Heathrow claims to go beyond the Airports Commission’s recommendations in some cases.
In this article, we look at the key commitments, reflecting what impact they would have on the environmental impacts of a third runway, which the Airports Commission described as ranging from adverse to significantly adverse. We highlighted in our blog following the Airports Commission’s final report that many of the proposed concessions failed to adequately deal with the environmental challenges of a new runway.
….. just the section on air quality below ……
- Airports Commission recommendation: Additional operations at an expanded Heathrow must be contingent on acceptable performance on air quality. New capacity will be released when it is clear that air quality at sites around the airport will not delay compliance with EU limits.
- Heathrow: Agree to this recommendation and state that the airport is taking further steps through an ultra-low emissions zone for airport vehicles, developing plans for an emissions charging scheme, and support the Environment Agency scrutinising their plans
AEF has argued that the Airports Commission’s recommendation that expansion should not be allowed to “delay compliance” with the legislation was as a result of an inability to demonstrate that the Heathrow area – which has exceeded air quality limits for many years – could in fact be brought into compliance with legal air quality law if a third runway was built.
Rather than accepting the condition proposed by the Airports Commission, AEF believes permission for a new runway should only be given if it can be proven that this is compatible with bringing air pollution in the Heathrow area within legal limits. The issue of whether other locations in London are forecast to breach legal limits should not be used as an excuse for failing to bring the Heathrow area into compliance with the law.
Alan Andrews, lawyer at ClientEarth, finds Heathrow offers on air quality “underwhelming” and vague
In an excellent article in Environment Journal, ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews says John Holland-Kaye’s two offers by Heathrow to try to get NO2 levels down are, in his words, “underwhelming.” Alan says the first offer to “create an ultra-low emissions zone [ULEZ] for airport vehicles by 2025” is vague, as we are not told what conditions this zone will have. It is also only airport vehicles, which are a tiny proportion of the total. Alan says this is also five years behind the tardy ULEZ which is currently slated to come into force in the congestion charging zone in central London. On the second offer, to “develop plans for an emissions charging scheme for all vehicles accessing the airport….” Alan comments that there is no deadline given for delivery, and it is far from the radical action needed to get air pollution down to legal levels quickly. Heathrow has also talked of extending a low emissions zone to the airport, but there is no detail of when this would happen or what standards would apply. ClientEarth believes that as the area around the airport breaks legal limits, all these measures should be happening regardless of expansion, in order to satisfy the Supreme Court order and achieve legal limits as soon as possible.
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Lord True, Richmond Council leader and Conservative peer, describes Heathrow promises as ‘worthless’ and asks David Cameron to deny expansion immediately
The leader of Richmond Council, Lord True, has called Heathrow’s pledge to ban night flights a “feeble attempt to bribe London.” He described Heathrow’s promises as “worthless” and said on the ending of night flights: “This so-called pledge falls short of what the Davies Commission requests and the Heathrow PR men simply cannot be believed. If they can stop pre-5.30am flights, why don’t they do it now? Rather than spending billions of pounds doing it?” On Heathrow’s claims about air quality improvements, Lord True commented:: “They cannot comply with EU air quality limits and their ‘jam’ promises are worthless…..if people’s health comes first – big Heathrow is dead in the water.” He said Heathrow had just made some token alterations to their original proposals. Richmond Council, along with Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Windsor & Maidenhead councils, have already made it clear that should the Government give a 3rd Heathrow runway the go-ahead – they would together launch legal action opposing the plans. Lord True: “I say to Mr Cameron – hundreds of thousands of Londoners remember your promise – “no ifs, no buts,” ….We expect our Prime Minister to keep his promise….”
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Heathrow’s vague proposal on no night flights – what is Heathrow really saying?
Heathrow currently, under current night flight controls that are due to be re-considered in 2017, is allowed 5,800 night flights per year. That’s an average of 16 arriving each morning, typically between 4.30am and 6am. The latest flights should leave by 11.30pm but there are many that are later, almost up to midnight. Heathrow has been very reluctant to agree to a ban between 11.30pm and 6am, which was the condition imposed by the Airports Commission. Heathrow claims the early arrivals are vital for businessmen catching early flights – especially those from the UK regions. But now, desperate to be allowed a 3rd runway, Heathrow mentions [very careful, rather odd wording]: “The introduction of a legally binding ban on all scheduled night flights for six and a half hours (as recommended by the Airports Commission) from 11 pm to 5:30 am when the third runway opens.” and “We will support the earlier introduction of this extended ban on night flights by Government as soon as the necessary airspace has been modernised after planning consent for the third runway has been secured.” Heathrow only mentions scheduled flights. Not late ones. It is widely recognised that for health, people need 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night. Not 6.5 hours. Heathrow makes no mention of the inevitable concentrated landings and take offs at the shoulder periods, in order to keep 6.5 hours quiet. Apart from insomniacs and shift workers, who else regards the end of the night as 5.30am?
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Heathrow’s commitment on 4th runway – what is Heathrow really saying?
The Airports Commission said, in giving its recommendation that a 3rd Heathrow runway should be built, that a firm condition was that no 4th runway should ever be built there. The Commission’s wording in its Final Report (1.7.2015) was: “A fourth runway should be firmly ruled out. The government should make a commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further. There is no sound operational or environmental case for a four runway Heathrow.” And “This may be as part of a National Policy Statement or through legislation.” What Heathrow has now said is that it will: “Accept a commitment from Government ruling out any fourth runway.” This does not say this ban on a 4th runway would be in legislation. It merely says there would be a commitment. But the coalition government made a commitment not to build a 3rd runway, in 2010. That commitment was then overturned in the next Parliament. It scarcely encourages trust. A commentator in the Huffington Post says (as well as the long history of Heathrow’s broken promises) that allowing the 3rd Heathrow runway would effectively say Heathrow is now and ever will be the UK’s hub airport. Hub airports actually “need at least four runways and preferably room to expand further.”
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