However, the Commission has also reportedly announced that it wants to launch a public consultation on how air quality levels would be affected by the rival expansion proposals from both Heathrow and Gatwick, before a final ruling is given later this year.

The Airports Commission’s own report states there are “no predicted exceedances of the air quality objective at any receptor location” at Heathrow, which itself has proposed a comprehensive air quality mitigation strategy for the potential expansion.

Jobs & growth

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “This evidence from the Airports Commission is great news for Heathrow expansion. It shows that our plan, which has been produced with local community views at its core, can be delivered without exceeding air quality limits.

“Expanding Heathrow will deliver what the nation needs and what politicians want – an opportunity to win the race for jobs and growth by connecting the entire country to the world’s fastest growing destinations. It’s the only decision that will create up to 180,000 new jobs and £211bn of economic growth, shared across Britain.”

According to the Financial Times, the Airports Commission has now decided to launch a full public consultation looking at how the potential expansions could affect air quality. That consultation will finish at the end of this month and the commission will deliver its recommendation by June.

This all comes after the Supreme Court ruled in April that Britain must accelerate efforts to bring down air pollution after it breached European Union standards

Last year, two reports were published which challenged the Airports Commission’s claim that it is possible to build a new runway and still meet the UK Government’s climate change target. 

The RSPB report – “Aviation, climate change and sharing the load” – and the WWF report, by the AEF – “The implications of a new South East runway on regional airport expansion” – demonstrate that if a new runway is built, commitments under the Climate Change Act cannot be met unless significant constraints are imposed on the level of activity at regional airports.

Cameron’s dilemma

Heathrow’s argument to build a new runway could be additionally hindered by the fact that roads around the airport already exceed air pollution limits – a third runway there was rejected five years ago for environmental reasons.

Airport expansion plans are a big policy challenge for the new majority Tory Party, as they have generally been unpopular with voters, who are concerned about increased noise and traffic on homes in the London area, along with the potential negative effects on air quality.

The construction of a third runway at Heathrow would cost an estimated £18.6bn, which would require £5.7bn from the taxpayer to improve access. The Airports Commission has already concluded that a second runway at Gatwick would cost £9.3bn, plus a further £787m from the taxpayer to improve road and rail access.

Luke Nicholls

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