New research on Heathrow meeting air pollution standards with 3rd runway is highly speculative and not convincing

The BBC published a story about work, funded by NERC and led by a Cambridge professor, on Heathrow air pollution levels. The work is ongoing and not yet published, but the BBC made the claim that it showed a Heathrow 3rd runway would not breach NO2 levels. The timing of the story by the BBC, one or two weeks before it is expected the Cabinet will make an announcement, may be due to Heathrow manipulation. The study in reality is looking at modelling of future air pollution, based on a range of assumptions – nothing new. Its projections are only as good as its modelling inputs. If assumptions that vehicles will rapidly convert to lower-NO2 engines, or the uptake of electric vehicles will be fast, then forecasts of NO2 can be low. But this is highly speculative. Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the AEF, said: “The assumption would have to be that, over the next decade, we’d move from having something like 57% of London’s vehicles being diesel vehicles to instead having ultra-clean electric vehicles throughout the capital. There just isn’t evidence to suggest that’s going to happen.”  Client Earth’s CEO James Thornton said: “When making the decision on Heathrow the government has a moral and legal duty to protect people’s health and ensure they have the right to breathe clean air. It shouldn’t base its decision on optimistic modelling at best and a naive view of the car industry that has proven time and time again it can’t be trusted to bring levels of air pollution down.”  The study did not look at increases in road traffic, or what proportion would be associated with the new runway.



Anger as Heathrow expansion cleared over air quality

By Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent (The Times)
October 7 2016

A row broke out yesterday after researchers claimed that an expanded Heathrow would not breach pollution limits, paving the way for the construction of a third runway.

An independent study led by Cambridge University measured poisonous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels using 40 sensors around the airport.

One monitoring station just north of Heathrow registered pollution levels of 64.9 micrograms per cubic metre — 62% higher than legal limits. One other was 51% higher and at least three were 20% or more above the legal limit. The EU limit is 40 micrograms in a year

Full Times article at


New research on Heathrow air pollution not convincing

Reports on new research have today suggested that Heathrow airport could build a new runway without breaking European pollution laws.

Reacting to the report ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said:

“When making the decision on Heathrow the government has a moral and legal duty to protect people’s health and ensure they have the right to breathe clean air.

“It shouldn’t base its decision on optimistic modelling at best and a naive view of the car industry that has proven time and time again it can’t be trusted to bring levels of air pollution down.

Heathrow air pollution must be cut drastically

“The government’s own report recently showed that diesel cars are emitting on average six times the legal limits when tested on the roads. They have even admitted one of the reasons we have toxic air is because car makers have failed to meet legal emissions limits.”

“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, the area around Heathrow will continue to be in breach of legal pollution limits until 2025. Air pollution around the airport needs to be cut drastically before we can think about expansion.”


from Air Quality

Heathrow runway research ‘open to all kinds of interpretations’

7.10.2016  (Air Quality

….. extracts from article below ….

Professor Jones said the “experimental” findings address “just one strand” of emissions testing.

Professor Jones told that the research itself has not yet been published but originates from a PowerPoint presentation he gave on low cost sensor networks for measuring urban air quality.

“There is a narrative I provide with it,” Prof Jones said, adding that “as a PowerPoint presentation on its own it is open to all kinds of interpretations.”

The research itself focussed on the installation of a network of low cost installations across Heathrow Airport for monitoring air pollution. These instruments are not certified but are calibrated against the measuring instruments already in place.

However, Prof Jones said that the research addresses just “one factor in Heathrow— I am completely agnostic on the outcomes. We’ve observationally confirmed just one strand of the airport commission’s research. We didn’t go out there to prove a point, we went there to try a new measurement unit.”

When asked, Professor Rod Jones said that while the research showed that the ‘background traffic’ in the area is predominantly not associated with the airport, the study did not take into account possible increases in traffic to and from the airport in the case of a third runway, as this is much harder to measure.


Academic research funded by NERC looking at better scientific data on Heathrow area NO2 pollution

The NERC (National Environment Research Centre) has funded independent research by a group of university academics into the NO2 air pollution. Heathrow has not paid for it. They have been using a larger number of pollution sensors, in different places, to contribute scientific data on levels of air pollution. They hope to be able to distinguish between NO2 from Heathrow itself, and from road traffic or that blown in from elsewhere. At several sites, the levels of NO2 are already above EU limits (40 µg/m3 over a year). The aim of the research is to test models to ensure they accord with reality. Past work done for the Airports Commission relied on estimates, whereas this latest work used more accurate, real-world measurements. The research is ongoing and there is no report yet, but it is likely that in a month or so the findings will be submitted to one or other journal, for peer review before publication. The study is on NO2 and has not looked at particulates in the same detail. One of the authors said the study does not say anything new – it is merely looking at the situation in an independent, purely scientific way, rather than (as has been done in the past) just extrapolating and predicting by modelling. The existence of the work, is being interpreted by others (like the BBC) to mean that air pollution from road vehicles will reduce (less NO2 from new diesels, and there will be more electric vehicles) in future, so a 3rd Heathrow runway might not lead to illegal NO2 levels. The authors say they have just done research – interpretation is for others.

Click here to view full story…

Heathrow launches PR drive for third runway pegged to Brexit

Airport also presents plans to support UK’s steel industry ahead of imminent decision on new runway capacity for London

By Rob Davies (Guardian)

Thursday 6 October 2016

Heathrow is hoping an 11th-hour push pegged to Brexit will secure approval to build a third runway, with a final verdict from the government expected within a fortnight.

A government committee chaired by the prime minister, Theresa May, is understood to be on the verge of deciding whether new runway capacity will be added at Gatwick or Heathrow, and industry insiders expect a verdict on 18 October.

Heathrow has latched on to issues related to Brexit, and the struggling UK steel industry, in an attempt to give its £18.6bn plan a last-minute shot in the arm.

It has pledged to use 370,000 tonnes of British steel in the construction of the new runway and a sixth terminal, a plan it says could save 700 jobs in the UK’s beleaguered steel industry. It also says it would prioritise new “Brexit boost” air routes to provide more connections to regional airports and non-EU countries.

The plan would see Heathrow sacrifice more lucrative transatlantic routes in an effort to show it is ready to help the government forge global trade links for life outside the EU.

Its Brexit boost plan would add 25,000 take-offs and landings a year before the runway is built, assuming it is chosen. If Gatwick wins, the plan would not go ahead.

Heathrow says the extra flights would give the UK economy a £1.5bn boost between 2021 and 2025, the date it expects the new runway to be completed assuming there are no major planning delays.

Not all of the new routes would be to non-EU countries, but the airport has said it would reserve slots for destinations such as Wuhan in China, Kochi in India, Quito in Ecuador and Osaka in Japan.

Its proposal would also involve setting up new connections for regional airports such as Dundee, Humberside, Liverpool and Newquay.

Regional networks would also benefit from a 10-year extension to a £10 discount on flights to regional airports.

The plan is designed to appeal to the government’s post-EU referendum plans, as it seeks to ensure trade does not suffer after Brexit.

As part of a concerted drive to sway May’s committee, Heathrow pointed to research on the economic benefits of expansion compared with Gatwick if its Brexit boost plan goes ahead.

The study by Frontier Economics estimates that Heathrow would deliver £60bn of benefit to the economy by 2035, compared with £5bn for Gatwick.

Gatwick’s boss, Stewart Wingate, lashed out at Heathrow’s promise to increase capacity before its new runway is complete.

“Cabinet ministers who have opposed expansion in the past won’t be fooled by this desperate back of an envelope plan,” he said. “Heathrow is undeliverable. The sooner we recognise that and get going with Gatwick, the sooner Britain can benefit.”

Heathrow’s hopes for a positive decision were tempered by a green group questioning an independent study that suggested Heathrow could expand without a large increase in emissions.

A University of Cambridge study suggests a new runway could be built without breaching EU pollution laws. It measured nitrogen dioxide levels around the airport and predicted a marginal increase in emissions if more cars were visiting it, according to the BBC. [This study in fact says nothing new, and it is not due to be published for many weeks or months. The BBC jumped the gun on it, making unjustified claims. Heathrow presumably had orchestrated the publicity about the study, at this time, for its own purposes.  AW note].

The Aviation Environment Federation challenged the study’s findings, which it said were speculative because they were based on assumptions about greater use of electric cars and cleaner engines.

“There is no guarantee that these improvements will materialise, and the government should not support a runway unless it has the policies in place to ensure emissions are reduced,” said the AEF’s deputy director, Cait Hewitt.

“If the government gives the green light to Heathrow based on hopes about the take-up of cleaner vehicles without policies in place to deliver them, they’d better be ready for being back in court.”

If May does give Heathrow the green light, the project will still require approval by parliament.

Heathrow is believed to be confident that it has the backing of the overwhelming majority of MPs.