Heathrow ‘surprised’ as Government omits air quality regulation from plans

Heathrow Airport has today (3 February) urged the Government to ensure independent regulation of the air quality impact of the Airport's expansion, a day after ministers launched a consultation on proposals for the third runway.

In a letter to the Department for Transport (DfT), the Airport’s sustainability & environment director Matthew Gorman reiterated a call for the Environment Agency (EA) to be handed a role as an independent aviation air quality authority to oversee Heathrow’s expansion proposals.

Gorman said: “Heathrow’s plans to reduce emissions are ambitious – they reflect how seriously we take air quality issues –  but they are also realistic and achievable. We want to ensure our local communities have confidence in our plans and hope you will support independent oversight of our air quality compliance.”

The Government’s consultation on Thursday set out the need for additional airport capacity, as well as the reasons the Government believes that need is best met by a new runway at Heathrow. The Airport has subsequently expressed its “surprise” that the independent oversight suggestion was not mentioned in the document.

Environmental campaign groups were quick to denounce the apparent lack of references to climate change in the draft proposals. “The Government claims a new runway can be delivered within climate goals, but without firm commitments and a credible plan this is merely wishful thinking,” WWF-UK’s climate change specialist James Beard said.

“If the Government keeps ignoring the Heathrow carbon problem it runs the risk of breaching the Climate Change Act.”

Beard’s views were echoed by Friends of the Earth (FoE) activist Sophie Neuburg, who said: “Bold and urgent measures are needed to head off the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. It’s simply pie in the sky to think we can build a third runway at Heathrow while keeping UK targets for slashing emissions.”

Expansion turbulence

The long-anticipated expansion of Heathrow was overwhelmingly approved by ministers last October, and described at the time a “climate-wrecking” decision by green groups.

Recent analysis by CarbonBrief identified that, as demand for flights inevitably increases due to Heathrow’s extra capacity, Britain’s aviation sector could account for around two-thirds of the nation’s Carbon Budget, relative to 1.5C global warming target established through the Paris Agreement.

Nevertheless, some studies have suggested that the expansion would not necessarily lead to a breach of European air pollution laws. Research conducted by the University of Cambridge and seen by the BBC suggested that, while the runway could lead to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, this would be offset by a reduction in pollution from nearby traffic.

Further analysis by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) also concluded that any disruptions arising from the potential noise pollution and increases in carbon and nitrogen emissions could be mitigated by the uptake of advanced technology, such as the electrification of vehicles around the airport. Indeed, Heathrow recently committed to a £2m electric vehicle charging pledge, while the Airport also houses London’s first zero-carbon, fully autonomous, battery-operated carrier pods.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye took to the stage at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum last week to announce that all of the Airport’s energy usage will be generated from renewable sources within the next few months.

George Ogleby

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