Air Pollution Ruling 'Show-Stopper' for Third Runway

Supreme Court rules Government must crack down on pollution

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Campaigners against the expansion of Heathrow airport are claiming that a legal judgment this week could put paid to plans to expand Heathrow airport.

In a unanimous verdict, five judges on the Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consult on strict new air pollution plans that must be submitted to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015.

The plans require the Government crack down on the UK's high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. The judgment could have implications for a third runway at Heathrow according to HACAN. They say areas around the airport continue to be stubbornly above the EU legal limits. It is down to a combination of pollution from the planes and the amount of traffic on the M4 and M25. It is the only airport in the UK where the EU limits are breached or are likely to be so in the future.

John Stewart, the chair of HACAN, said, “This is a potential show-stopper as far as a third runway is concerned. It is difficult to see how any Government will get away with backing a new runway at Heathrow when the plans it is now required to draw up urgently to present to the EU say it must come up with a coherent plan to cut air pollution.”

Lord Carnwath said the court was "in no doubt about the seriousness" of the UK's breach of EU law in failing to meet legal pollution limits, which leaves it open to the risk of European Commission fines totalling £300m. The EU Air Quality Directive demanded the UK brought pollution down to legal limits by 2010 or apply for an extension by 2015. But the government in 2011 said that a number of areas, including London, would be unable to comply by 2015 and instead argued the law allowed it to comply "as soon as possible".

The judgment marks a victory for the campaigning legal firm ClientEarth which had sued the Government over its lack of action.

Heathrow Airport has responded with a 10-point plan to boost local air quality around Heathrow Airport including plans to introduce an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) for airside vehicles by 2025. They aim to reduce ground-based emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 5% by 2020.

They also plan a £5 million upgrade to the short-term car parking infrastructure as well as a switch to electric or hybrid for their own cars.

Along with TfL, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Highways Agency they say they will introduce a regional strategy for air quality focused on emissions from buses.

A Heathrow spokesperson said, “We agree that Heathrow’s expansion should only go ahead within strict environmental limits on local air quality. Heathrow already has a good track record, we have cut emissions by 16% in the last 5 years, and we recently announced plans to lower them further by replacing diesel vehicles on the airport with alternative technologies and increase incentives our airlines to operate their cleanest planes here.

"However, by far the greatest contribution to local air pollution arises from non-airport road traffic and we are talking to the Mayor to see how we can extend London’s Low Emissions Zone to the M25 and in time, the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, and replace diesel buses and coaches serving Heathrow with hybrid or alternative vehicles.

"We also want the next Government to commit to Western and Southern Rail Access to provide people to the south and west of Heathrow a better alternative to driving, with good public transport links through Reading and Waterloo.”

Heathrow Airport chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said, “We have a good track record in reducing emissions, now we will go even further and continue to work with partners to reduce emissions in the roads around Heathrow. We have ambitions to be one of the most responsible airports in the world, and the best neighbour we can be to our local communities.”

May 1, 2015