Heathrow and TfL at odds over environmental impact of expansion

Proposals for a third runway at Heathrow could cost the taxpayer around £17bn and aggravate London's air pollution because of increased traffic levels, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace from Transport for London (TfL).

A Greenpeace investigation has revealed the TfL’s response to an Airports Commission report – which claimed that Heathrow can expand within environmental limits. TfL analysis has called for additional measures to manage traffic and prevent worsening air pollution caused by an anticipated extra 30 million passengers to the London transport network each year.

The Airport Commission report estimated that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration levels on the Bath Road would be the highest in London if left unmitigated. TfL have highlighted that this would delay already overdue efforts to meet EU air pollution rules. The London transport network has questioned the effectiveness of the Airport Commission’s mitigation measures, underlining the potential scale of the surface demand and impacts.

TfL has also disputed the Airports Commission’s claims that surface transport costs would lie in the region of £4.2bn, suggesting that the Commission’s report failed to account for the costs of key rail schemes, additional bus services and extra operational spending. The TfL documents reveal that overall cost estimates for upgrading transports links could in fact be as high as £17bn.

Air quality challenge

A Heathrow spokesperson told edie: “TfL’s estimated costs were revealed over five months ago at the Environmental Audit Committee. They come in well above the figure the Airports Commission itself proposed, following a three year, £20m independent study into this issue.

“By their own admission, TfL’s final figure is a shopping list of projects that would be required regardless of Heathrow expansion. In reality, public funding of around £1 billion only would be needed for road and rail upgrades.”

Representatives at Heathrow have clarified that an estimated £15-20bn figure for surface access infrastructure was the likely cost required by an expansion of the airport. Heathrow claim that this scale of surface access intervention would be necessary to provide reliable journeys, maintain the attractiveness of the airport, and achieve a sustainable mode share for passengers and staff to help address the air quality challenge.

‘Off the table’

The proposed third runway at Heathrow has been labelled a “hugely damaging decision” and a “backward step on climate change” by a variety of green groups and politicians.

In his recently published Transport Manifesto, Conservative London Mayor candidate Zac Goldsmith remained resolute in his objective to ensure Heathrow expansion stayed ‘absolutely off the table’, warning that a new runway would create toxic levels of pollution and unacceptable levels of noise.

Last month, a report from the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) found that technological advancements will mitigate environmental impacts, such as noise and air pollution, of the third runway. Analysis from the report also suggested that road traffic would be the main culprit in an increase in air pollution. Heathrow has attempted to address this problem through the introduction of zero-emission driverless cars and a £2m electric vehicle charging pledge.

George Ogleby

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