Department for Transport Under Fire Over Heathrow Study

Accused of breaking rules by sharing vital air pollution data with BAA

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Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell has been asked to investigate claims that the Department for Transport has broken civil service rules by sharing vital air pollution data with BAA in advance of public consultation on plans for a third Heathrow runway.

The 2M Group of local authorities, which represents two million people whose quality of life is affected by Heathrow expansion, has also called on transport minister Gillian Merron to release all the data from the Department for Transport's Project for the Sustainable Development of Heathrow (PSDH) study.

The study is the key to deciding whether a third runway can be built without exceeding environmental limits.

The Government is expected to publish a consultation document later this year that will state that a third runway would, subject to certain conditions, pass the pollution and noise tests.

In its letter to Gillian Merron the 2M Group says, "The Department has a duty to be fair to all sides in the way it makes the technical data from this study available. However it has emerged from comments made last month by a senior BAA official that BAA has been given an early sight of the modelling.

"If true - and the Department was unable to contradict the BAA comments at the Heathrow Airport Consultative Committee meeting on May 23 - this is patently unfair. It will put 2M members at an immense disadvantage when it comes to consultation as BAA will clearly be far advanced in their appraisal of the different modelling outputs.

"This raises a number of serious issues regarding the consultation process and access to information. The PSDH process is being funded by taxpayers' money. We do not believe it can be fair to share data with a private company whose business interests are served by expanding Heathrow when that data is not being provided to other organisations including local authorities.

"We must therefore ask that you now provide to our members all of the model outputs that have been given to BAA as well as the model datasets used to produce these. We also require an assurance that any further sharing of data will be carried out in an even-handed manner."

Hounslow Council’s leader, Cllr Peter Thompson, speaking on behalf of the 2M group, said, "The public has a right to know what is going on. The air pollution work at Heathrow is being paid for with public money. Giving the results first to BAA just gives them a head start on everyone else.

"The Government now runs the risk that the results of its air pollution studies will be tainted. This will be a huge embarrassment for the DfT and further confirmation to the public of the lengths the department will go to in its efforts to 'prove' Heathrow can meet its air pollution targets.

"If ministers use these studies to justify pressing ahead with plans for a third runway they will almost certainly leave themselves wide open to challenge from environmental groups."

The 2M group comprises the London Boroughs of Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth. Authorities outside London include Slough, South Bucks, Spelthorne and Windsor and Maidenhead.


June 12, 2007