Evidence on air pollution, given to the High Court hearings on a 3rd Heathrow runway, by Neil Spurrier

Neil Spurrier, a solicitor from Teddington, made one of the 5 legal challenges against the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to approve a 3rd Heathrow runway, through the Airports National Policy Statement. The legal hearings from the councils, the Mayor of London, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Plan B Earth and Mr Spurrier took place between the 15th and 19th March. There are transcripts of each day’s proceedings here. Neil addressed the issue of air pollution in particular, and the emissions of NO2 and particulates from planes themselves. He made important points, such as that air pollution is known to spread much, much further from an airport than the 2 km that the DfT has tried to use. Also that there is evidence of possible damage to the foetus from particulates found in placentas of people affected by air pollution, and that the government should not be risking the health of future generations. He made the point, on ultrafine particles, that merely because they have not been specifically studied (being part of the wider category of PM 2.5), is no reason for the government to discount them or consider their impact to be negative. The absence of evidence is not enough to avoid the precautionary principle. Read the full transcripts for details.


The details of what Neil Spurrier said in his presentations to the Court, on 14th and 19th March – just on the subject of air pollution – are on this link.

Neil Spurrier on air pollution at High Court

Below are links to the transcripts of the first 7 days of the court hearings, dealing with the legal challenges by the Councils, Greenpeace and the Mayor of London; also Friends of the Earth; Plan B Earth; and Mr Neil Spurrier.  The last 3 days of the hearings ( 20th, 21st and 22nd March) are devoted only to the Heathrow Hub legal challenge

Links to all the transcripts are at


The Court website says: “These transcripts have not been approved by the court.”




Just a few extracts from Neil Spurrier’s presentation, are copied below:


But I would like to address you, my Lords, on the

emissions from the aircraft themselves.

It is, as I understand it, my Lords, the Secretary

of State’s case that they have little effect and,

indeed, Heathrow themselves have stated in meetings with

us that they don’t have effect.


Caroline Low, in her first witness statement, has also

confirmed this at paragraph 422.  That is volume 4,

tab 1, page 173.  In which she says:

“Where the AOS [Appraisal of Sustainability] provides estimates of population

affected by worse air quality, this is based on the

population within the 2-kilometre study area identified

by the Airports Commission.”


MR SPURRIER:  Now, I say that it is fundamentally wrong to

confine the study area for Heathrow expansion to

encompass just a 2-kilometre radius round the boundary

of the intended expanded airport.

The Secretary of State appears to make light of this

part of my claim.  He says, in his skeleton argument,

that “much ink has been spilt” on this.

I am sorry, but I come back, my Lords, to say that

bad air quality, below the required legal standards,

spills a lot more than just ink.



That is Caroline Low’s witness statement

and, at paragraph 14, page 311, Caroline Low says:

“As shown above, the concentration of pollutants

decreases quickly as you move away from the POE [and

that is point of emission, I imagine].  This effect is

so pointed that the search presented by DEFRA found that

aircraft emissions produced above 100 metres altitude

have almost no impact on the ground level concentration.

“Two thirds of emissions from the landing and take

off cycle occur above 100 metres, and therefore two

thirds of the aircraft emissions have a negligible

impact on human health.”


The date of this document is 2018 and it comes

out just slightly after the national policy statement.

But, my Lords, first of all, it is a government

document, so I would say that the contents must have

been known, certainly ought to have been known, prior to

the ANPS.


The public law error, my Lord, is, firstly,

Heathrow operates in an area which is in breach of the

air quality regulations.  The air quality in the London

boroughs — in none of the London boroughs, is my

understanding, is scheduled to comply until well after

  1. So, any increase in emissions is going to cause

a further breach of the law.  We already have an

estimate, or a forecast, that if Heathrow is allowed to

expand there is an 80 per cent chance of there being

a further breach in 2026.  High.  Mr Jaffey addressed

you on that.

From what I am saying, my Lords, that 80 per cent

may be low because there is a whole area that simply has

not been assessed.


Section 1.5, “Health


“ultrafine particles penetrate deep into the

respiratory system, allowing interactions with lung

tissue and potential translocation into the


I’ll mention, my Lords, that there is a report now

from Queen Mary’s Hospital, which shows that this

actually does happen.

“This together with the hypothesis that the toxicity

of particulate matter is governed by the surface area of

the particulates, rather than their mass, has led to

suggestions that ultrafine particles may be particularly

harmful to health.”

HEI, that is the Health Effects Institute 2013.


Caroline Low, [DfT] at page 321,

paragraph 35:

“Mr Spurrier references research ‘endorsed’ by

DEFRA’s air quality expert group that appears to show

that dispersion of particulates occurs over a wide area

and that therefore the study area drawn from the air

quality modelling is too narrow.

“While DEFRA’s report does reference these studies,

it in no way endorses them.  The research DEFRA

highlights is in respect of UFP, a form of particulate

matter emitted from aircraft.  Unlike NOx and

particulate matter UFP are not currently the basis of

air quality legislation and are not the subject of air

quality modelling.


DEFRA’s air quality

expert group in their latest report still maintain that

aviation emissions above 100 metres have little impact

on ground level concentrations.”

I have to say, my Lord, I have searched the DEFRA’s

air quality expert group report and I have found no

indication whatsoever of that last statement.  Indeed,

the passage I have just read out to you shows that they

do have an effect.

I think my Lords, it was my friend Mr Crosland,

yesterday, who made the point — I think in connection

with climate change — that if you don’t know what the

answer is, the answer is not nought.


but if I could take you to the abstracts because they do

show that these plane exhaust particulates spread at

least 20 kilometres and maybe even 40 kilometres




“Over large areas downwind of LAX, [Los Angeles] concentrations of

pollutants other than PM were also elevated, figures

5(a) to (c) [and I will come to those in a minute] show

nearly indistinguishable spatial patterns of PM BC [that

is black carbon] and NO2 concentration measured

simultaneously at distances of 9.5 to 12 kilometres from

LAX.  This suggests a common source for these

pollutants …”

The figures 5(a) to (c) are just above that.  So,

here we have, my Lords, a study that is primarily on

particulates, but also did measure nitrogen dioxide,

which is clearly very much within the EU Regulations

2008 50.


.  The issues are, firstly, whether or not the

18       Secretary of State has adopted a rational approach and,

19       secondly, whether he has considered matters which he

20       ought to have considered.

21           In my submission, it is not rational to disregard

22       likely impacts that could have very long and harmful

23       consequences simply because they have not been

24       addressed.


21           If I may, I will clarify one point about the UFPs [ultrafine particles]

22       that was raised in my last submission.  In the website

23       statement of the Queen Mary’s Hospital report on

24       particulates and the placentas of expectant mothers —

25       that is at volume 13, tab 8, page 99 — it is said that

1       as yet there is no specific evidence of the transfer of

2       particulates from the placenta to the foetus.  However,

3       I would draw your Lordships’ attention to the statement

4       that there is actual harm done to the foetus directly

5       from the particulates that have made their way into the

6       placenta.

7           I refer my Lords to page 100, in volume 13, tab 8,

8       which says:

9           “We do not know whether the particles we found could

           10       also move across into the foetus, but our evidence

           11       suggests that this is indeed possible.  We also know

           12       that the particles do not need to get into the baby’s

           13       body to have an adverse effect because if they have an

          14       effect on the placenta, this will have a direct impact

           15       on the foetus.”



9           Just to remind us, my Lords, the principle is:

10           “Sustainable development can be summarised as

11       meeting the needs of the present without compromising

12       the ability of future generations to meet their own

13       needs.”

14           The Secretary of State is not having any regard to

15       the precautionary principle.  Indeed, I would submit it

16       is more of a gung-ho principle.  He has not acknowledged

17       my claim in respect of the particulates and nitrogen

18       dioxide being transmitted downwind from planes in the

19       air.  I pleaded it in paragraph 38 of my statement.  The

20       Secretary of State did not address that part of my

21       claim.  I raised it in my skeleton argument, and again

22       it was not addressed.



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Neil Spurrier on air pollution at High Court