Heathrow ‘can expand within air quality limits’

The Airports Commission has confirmed that proposed pollution mitigation measures will enable a third runway to be built at Heathrow without legal air quality limits being breached, the operator of the West London airport claims.

The Airports Commission is due to make its final recommendations this summer

The Airports Commission is due to make its final recommendations this summer

Heathrow Airport yesterday (May 28) submitted its response to the Airport Commission’s three-week air quality consultation, which closes today (see AirQualityNews.com story), outlining the action it has taken to develop various air pollution mitigation measures.

And, after “rigorous assessment based on a conservative analysis” of the proposed measures, the Commission has confirmed that it “can expand within air quality limits”, according to Heathrow.

But, Heathrow said the government must take action to reduce road traffic emissions from the nearby M4 motorway, for which the airport said it is not responsible.

Led by chair Sir Howard Davies, the Airports Commission will report this summer on its recommendations for increasing the UK’s airport capacity and is considering three options: constructing a third runway at Heathrow; extending Heathrow’s northern runway; or building a second runway at Gatwick in Sussex.

But Heathrow has faced criticism over its bid for expansion, with campaigners arguing that doing so would adversely impact on air quality and lead to breaches of legal limits, while expanding capacity at its rival Gatwick would not exceed any air quality limits.

As a result, Heathrow has sought to develop air quality measures since its technical submission to the Davies Commission in June 2014, including investing £16 million to widen airfield taxiways to reduce emissions from aircraft on the ground.

Earlier this month, the airport also published a 10-point blueprint plan to further cut air pollution, including creating an ultra-low emission zone at Heathrow by 2025 aligned to the ULEZ set to cover Central London from 2020 (see AirQualityNews.com story).

In addition, Heathrow has proposed further proposals – including improved public transport options, technological improvements on the ground and a possible congestion charge zone – which it says have not yet been fully taken into account by the Commission’s assessment.

But according to Heathrow, if all of the mitigation measures are taken into account, and if the government and local authorities move to tackle traffic pollution from the M4, then air quality around the airport “would be improved beyond simply meeting legal requirements”.

Matt Gorman, Heathrow sustainability and environment director, said: “The Airports Commission Air Quality analysis has confirmed an expanded Heathrow will go beyond meeting local air quality limits. We worked with local communities and campaign groups so that our new approach to Heathrow expansion would deliver the right environmental solution as well as the right solution for the economy. Now let’s get on with it.”

Aviation Environment Federation

Meanwhile, environmental group the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) has said that all three expansion options covering both Heathrow and Gatwick should be ruled out on air quality grounds.

Publishing its response to the Airports Commission consultation today (May 29), the AEF said that analysis of the air quality impacts from the bids, carried out by consultancy Jacobs on behalf of the Commission, show that all three options would lead to worsened air quality.

The report by Jacobs published as part of the recent consultation concluded that none of the options would cause the UK to fail to comply with EU air quality legislation, but suggested the Gatwick option would have the lowest air quality impacts, with an estimated cost of more than £300 million (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Nevertheless, according to AEF “all options would worsen air quality, which is contrary to sustainable development as outlined in the European Ambient Air Quality Directive and the UK’s national planning policy”.

The group also argued that the Commission’s air quality modelling of each option did not take into account population growth and the additional number of journeys being made if all the jobs associated with expansion materialised, and is therefore likely to have underestimated the impacts.

AEF said: “We conclude that as long as doubt exists about whether expansion is compatible with legal and health based limits, all expansion proposals should be ruled out.”