Standard: “Official: Heathrow Airport expansion threatens to worsen London’s air quality”

The Standard reports that according to the government’s own analysis, a 3rd runway at Heathrow threatens to worsen air quality in central London.  The focus on whether a 3rd runway would worsen breaches of NO2 levels has been on the area around the airport. But a study (by Parsons Brinckerhoff) for the DfT highlighted that adding a runway risks increasing pollution in central London too. The impact would not be large, but it is more likely, in some scenarios, to push NO2 levels even closer to the legal limit or worsen breaches which may still be happening in 2025 due to traffic levels in central boroughs. This is because the wind is westerly for around 60 – 70% of the year in the south east.  The new DfT study also raised doubts over whether another Heathrow runway could be opened in 2025  without breaching EU legal limits on NO2.  Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said that meeting air quality legal requirements is a condition of planning approval, but has no concrete proposals to indicate how this could be done.  He hopes the 2015 Air Quality Plan by Defra, and new measures around Heathrow, would keep levels down. ClientEarth are currently embroiled in a Judicial Review against the Government on the plan, as it will not improve air quality fast enough (partly due to cost saving). The Defra study was before the truth the “dieselgate” scandal was fully appreciated, or new analysis showing NO2 from diesels is worse than had been thought.


Official: Heathrow Airport expansion threatens to worsen London’s air quality


26.10.2016  (Standard)
A third runway at Heathrow threatens to worsen air quality in central London, according to the Government’s own analysis.

It also raised doubts over whether another runway could be opened in 2025 at the west London airport without breaching EU legal limits on air pollution.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said that meeting air quality legal requirements is a condition of planning approval.


He insisted a third runway could be built within air quality limits but accepted some residents in west London would be affected by noise and having to move home because of the expansion.

“Of course it is difficult if you’re directly affected by the change — and I feel deeply sorry for those who are — but ultimately in politics you have to do what’s best for the whole United Kingdom,” he said. He also told BBC radio that the new runway might be built over the M25, saying it would be “cheaper and quicker” than tunnelling.

The focus on whether a third runway would worsen breaches of nitrogen dioxide levels in London has been on the area around the airport. But a study for the Department for Transport highlighted that expansion risks increasing pollution in central London.

Even though the possible impact from a third runway on the city centre is only very small, it is more likely, in some scenarios, to push NO2 levels even closer to the legal limit or worsen breaches which may still be happening in 2025 due to traffic levels in central boroughs.

Ministers insist that its 2015 Air Quality Plan and new measures around Heathrow will ensure that London will not be breaking these pollution levels by 2025.

However, environmental lawyers ClientEarth are currently embroiled in a Judicial Review against the Government on the plan, arguing that it fails to clean up toxic air in the capital quickly enough.


But a DfT spokesman said: “The Government believes that the Heathrow Northwest Runway scheme could be delivered without impacting on the UK’s compliance with air quality limit values, with a suitable package of policy and mitigation measures.”

The report for the DfT also admitted it had not included key new analysis showing emissions from some diesel vehicles are worse than previously claimed.

If they were included, it added, a third runway is “at risk of worsening exceedances” of pollution levels on some roads.

But it stressed that this would be “unlikely” to affect overall compliance for London to pollution rules.

John Stewart, chairman of anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, seized on these admissions to accuse the Government of “wing and a prayer decision-making” based on “outdated air pollution figures”. He also claimed ministers were “stalling” on banning a fourth runway. The Airports Commission concluded that a fourth runway should be “firmly” ruled out.

Mr Grayling yesterday stopped short of making this commitment in the Commons.

However, a DfT spokesman said this morning: “We accept the Airports Commission’s recommendation and we will explicitly exclude the possibility of a fourth runway.”

This is expected to happen in the National Policy Statement on airports next year.

But shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, warned if the Government left open the door to a fourth runway it would “escalate the battle” it faced with Londoners and environmentalists.


Zac Goldsmith, who resigned as MP for Richmond Park yesterday, sparking a by-election, said: “In a project full of obstacles and risks, air quality is among the highest. On that issue alone, Heathrow’s plans are likely to be scuppered.”

He also signalled willingness to work with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, despite their fiercely-fought mayoral race, to block Heathrow expansion.

“I will work with anyone and everyone to defeat the third runway, from all parties and none,” he said, adding that he already been “overwhelmed” by offers of support.


And the Guardian adds:

….concerns over noise and air pollution have been heightened by a Department forTransport report into air quality. Campaigners have highlighted an apparent admission that pollution is likely to rise in parts of London with a third runway, which they say potentially makes the scheme illegal.

The report, produced by Parsons Brinckerhoff for the DfT, said that Heathrow was “at risk of worsening exceedances of limit values alongside some roads within greater London, but this would be unlikely to affect the overall zone compliance”.

However, this is likely to be contested. Legal opinion obtained by the Clean Air in London campaign, from Robert McCracken QC, states that worsening pollution in any areas that already exceed legal limits would break the law.

Grayling has said that the runway cannot go ahead without complying with air quality obligations, which the report suggests would be entirely dependent on proposed mitigation schemes from Heathrow.


See earlier:


Cameron aide said government was “exposed on Heathrow” over air quality and “did not have the answers”

A memo sent by a Downing Street policy advisor, to David Cameron in September 2015 shows that the government were aware of the air pollution problem at Heathrow. The advisor, Camilla Cavendish, wrote that the air pollution plans by Liz Truss (then Environment Secretary) were inadequate and would not restrict the levels of NO2 around Heathrow. Camilla said: “There are three problems with Liz’s clean air plan as currently written. First it is still very much a draft which quotes initiatives that are likely to be abolished … Second it both over-claims and underwhelms. … It says we want the cleanest air in the world but does not even begin to tackle the fundamental question of how we might help people to shift away from diesel cars. Third, it leaves us exposed on Heathrow where we don’t yet have an answer on air quality.” Cameron said in December 2015 that the government would undertake more work on the Heathrow air pollution issue.  Defra published its national air quality plan in December 2015 with no mention of Heathrow and has not said more on this publicly since. Cavendish, who is now a Conservative peer, has now said she believes “successive governments have failed the public on air quality. Too many people in Whitehall and parliament think they can play it down because it’s invisible.”

DEFRA produces plan to improve air quality – Client Earth regards it as inadequate

A ruling by the Supreme Court in April 2015 required the government to produce a comprehensive plan to meet air pollution limits by December. The government has now produced this. The intention is that it has to include low emission zones, congestion charging and other economic incentives. It is thought that due to the failure to meet European limits of harmful NOx gases, which are mostly caused by diesel traffic, there are up to 9,500 premature deaths each year in London alone. Under the government’s plan, “Clean Air Zones” will be introduced – by 2020 – in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton where pollution is most serious. However, though vehicles like old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries have to pay a charge to enter these zones – private passenger cars will not be charged. Also newer vehicles that meet the latest emission standards will not need to pay. Client Earth, the lawyers who brought the legal case against the UK government, for breaching the EU’s Air Quality Directive, said the plan falls far short of the action necessary to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and they will make a legal challenge to force the government to take faster action to achieve legal pollution limits. “As soon as possible,” or by 2020, is not soon enough.


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.