No Heathrow expansion unless environmental conditions met

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Northern runway at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport expansion should not be approved unless it can demonstrate it can comply with environmental conditions, the UK government’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee says.

In July this year, the UK government appointed Airports Commission published its final report on increasing runway capacity in London, concluding that Heathrow Airport should have a third runway.

The UK government is expected to formally respond to the report by the end of the year. Since then, the arguments about air quality, traffic and pollution have intensified among those who are for and against expansion.

Environmental Audit Committee chair, Huw Irranca-Davies says: “The government has a duty to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in London to protect the health and well-being of its population.”

“The communities living near to the roads around Heathrow already put up with noise and extra traffic, it would be quite unacceptable to subject them to a potentially significant deterioration in air quality as well.”

The committee says Heathrow must demonstrate it can expand within legal air pollution limits, cover the costs of improving surface transport such as road and rail links, introduce a night flight ban and show that expanding the airport will reduce noise.

The committee also wants assurances that aviation emissions in 2050 will be no higher than 2005 levels, as set out in the Climate Change Act.

Irranca-Davies says: “Planes are becoming more fuel efficient, but this alone will not keep aviation emissions in line with the government’s climate change targets given the growth in passenger numbers. Even without expansion, aviation is on track to exceed its climate change target.”

At the beginning of November, Heathrow announced its plans for double freight traffic but Gatwick Airport says the increased road traffic caused by this further undermines the environmental case for Heathrow expansion.

Gatwick accuses the Airports Commission of not properly analysing the impact of additional freight would have on air quality levels. Gatwick says it can deliver a tenfold increase in freight capacity with a second runway without breaching air quality limits.

Gatwick Airport chief executive officer, Stewart Wingate says: “Boosting freight capacity has been a hallmark of Heathrow’s expansion plans, yet little attention has been given to the local impact it would have on the already illegal levels of air quality and congested roads surrounding Heathrow.”

Wingate says an expanded Gatwick would offer a real alternative to Heathrow for UK exporters.