Heathrow’s third runway ‘masterplan’ at odds with national net-zero aim, campaigners warn

It is estimated that the number of flights at Heathrow Airport will increase from 480

Heathrow’s “preferred masterplan” outlining the development of the controversial third runway was released today (18 June), offering members of the public a 12-week consultation to provide feedback on the strategy.

According to the masterplan, Heathrow will need to re-route the M25 under a tunnel beneath the third runway, divert existing rivers and reposition office buildings and car parks to provide enough space for the extra runway.

Heathrow has implemented an ambitious sustainability programme aimed at mitigating the negative environmental impact of a third runway. The all-encompassing strategy, dubbed Heathrow 2.0, lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues.

The 2020 ambition is for all growth from the airport’s new runway will be carbon-neutral; the last 5% of flights made by the most polluting aircraft will have been removed, NOx emissions from airport-related traffic will have been reduced by at least 40% from a 2013 baseline, and a new Centre of Excellence for sustainable aviation will be developed.

The masterplan attempts to align with these targets; an ultra-low emissions zone for vehicles will be introduced and public transportation routes will be prioritised to lessen the pollution from passenger vehicles. A 6.5-hour ban on night flights will also be enforced to reduce noise pollution.

Heathrow’s executive director for expansion, Emma Gilthorpe said: “Expansion must not come at any cost. That is why we have been working with partners at the airport, in local communities and in government to ensure our plans show how we can grow sustainably and responsibly – with environmental considerations at the heart of the expansion.

“This consultation is an opportunity for people to have their say on our preferred masterplan, so it’s really important that as many people as possible take part.”

Ignoring the emergency

However, it is estimated that the number of flights at Heathrow Airport will increase from 480,000 currently to 760,000 each year by 2026. Despite plans for carbon-neutral growth – which relies heavily on offsetting and peatland restoration – campaigners claim that the runway will clash with recent Government plans to set a legally binding net-zero carbon target for 2050.

The historic announcement came just over a month after the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its recommendations to Government on legislating for a net-zero carbon economy. The recommendations called that any net-zero target should encompass all sectors, including shipping and aviation which are currently excluded on a territorial basis.

London Assembly’s Caroline Russell commented: “Parliament recently declared a climate emergency so it is astonishing that Heathrow is pressing ahead with this climate-wrecking project. Diverting rivers and putting a motorway into a tunnel, while constructing acres of new car-parking space to allow flights to almost double in numbers is no way to address the climate crisis. 

“Theresa May’s recent announcement that the UK will eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050 sounds very hollow in the light of these plans. How can we ever meet our Paris Climate Change commitment if Government puts the interests of big business ahead of the health and well-being of Londoners?”

The expansion of Heathrow Airport to a third runway has been deemed “unlawful” because it would not be compatible with climate change targets, the High Court has been told by Friends of the Earth.

The group is one of a number of bodies, including local councils and Greenpeace, that have taken the UK Government to court over the impact of the third runway at Heathrow. They believe that the Government’s own climate change targets – especially with regards to aviation by 2050, on air pollution levels, and regarding other issues such as noise pollution – would be broken by the development. However, the five claimants taking the decision to court have had their case dismissed.

Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party added: “The only answer to the Heathrow consultation is ‘no way’. Aviation clearly has to contract, not expand, while we need to promote and encourage cleaner options like train travel, which could replace many Heathrow flights.”

Matt Mace

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