Air quality takes centre stage in Gatwick and Heathrow's expansion battle

Gatwick Airport has claimed it is the "only" airport that can deliver the economic benefits of expansion without "dramatic and unacceptable" impacts on air quality, after the Transport Committee continued to back the third runway development plans at Heathrow.

Heathrow Airport caters for 70% of the UK’s scheduled long-haul flights, compared to 11% at Gatwick

Heathrow Airport caters for 70% of the UK’s scheduled long-haul flights, compared to 11% at Gatwick

In a new report released today (4 May), the Transport Committee criticises the UK Government for failing to end “decades of political dithering on airport expansion”, while claiming that failing to introduce a third runway at Heathrow would “diminish” the UK’s competitiveness with international airport hubs.

But, with the report focusing mainly on economic growth, Gatwick has argued that that it would be able to deliver an equal amount of short and long-haul flights – and reap the economic benefits that they bring – without bringing wholesale disruptions to the surrounding areas through additional noise and air pollution.

A Gatwick spokesperson said: “The Transport Committee’s astonishing statement that the arguments ‘for and against airport expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century’ ignores the significant change within the aviation industry, following the break-up of the BAA monopoly in 2009 and the heightened focus on air quality in the UK which has repeatedly halted Heathrow’s plans in the past.

“An end to decades of delay and false-starts can only be achieved by giving the green light for Gatwick expansion. Gatwick is the only scheme which can actually deliver the economic benefits airport expansion would bring without the dramatic and unacceptable impacts on noise and air quality.”

'Economic madness'

The Transport Committee’s backing of the Heathrow expansion is based on the fact that the airport currently caters for 70% of the UK’s scheduled long-haul flights, compared to just 11% at Gatwick.

But, with a recent Greenpeace investigation revealing that Heathrow expansion could aggravate London's air pollution, environmental consultants ClientEarth have today claimed that any airport expansion decision that ignores air pollution would be financially perilous.

“Air pollution is a major and unresolved concern for Heathrow and must be dealt with before any decision is made to go ahead,” ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said. “It would be economic madness to begin any pre-construction before resolving the crucial issue of air quality which is damaging the health of people living and working around Heathrow and further afield.

“For once, we are in agreement with the Department for Transport – that more work on the environmental impacts, including air quality, is required before any work on any new runways can begin.”

ClientEarth – which has already filed legal warnings against the UK Government over national air pollution limits – joins a host of green campaigners concerned about the effect of Heathrow's expansion on London's air quality, which were breached just one week into 2016.

Heathrow has argued that “real, independent evidence” from both the Transport Committee and the Airports Commission – which claims the installation of technology will mitigate any environmental impacts – continue to highlight how an expansion at Heathrow would create an “economic powerhouse”.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The real, independent evidence continues to point towards Heathrow. The Transport Committee and the Prime Minister’s Airports Commission have confirmed that an expanded Heathrow will be an economic powerhouse driving jobs creation across the UK and fuelling a boom in British exports.

“Families and businesses across the nation are counting on the Prime Minister to secure Britain's long term future. Only an expanded Heathrow delivers and now is the time to make it happen.”

Carbon Trust Standards

These comments from Gatwick and Heathrow come off the back of big sustainability milestones hit by both airports this week, capping off further attempts to win approval for expansion.

Gatwick has achieved the highest absolute reduction in CO2 emissions in the transportation sector for 2014 and 2015 and has dually been awarded triple certification of the Carbon Trust Standard for reducing carbon emissions, water use and waste.

Meanwhile, Heathrow has become the first airport in the world to simultaneously hold four certifications of the Carbon Trust Standard, after working to reduce key environmental footprints both in-house and across its supply chain.

Heathrow’s procurement category manager Richard Scarlett will be speaking at the edie Sustainable Supply Chain conference on 6 July, discussing how the airport has embedded a responsible and sustainable procurement process throughout its supply chain.

Matt Mace


air quality | aviation | heathrow airport


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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