Heathrow vote prompts air quality concerns

Environmental campaigners have questioned the legality of a proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport after MPs voted to back the plans last night (25 June).

Expansion of Heathrow is the government’s favoured option to deliver additional airport capacity for the UK, ahead of plans to develop an additional runway at Gatwick Airport.

MPs have backed proposals to develop a third runway at Heathrow

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the development at Heathrow last night, with 415 votes in favour and only 119 against.

This is despite questions as to whether the third runway can be delivered without creating additional levels of air pollution in the capital, and risking future non-compliance with air quality targets.

Air quality

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told MPs that the development would only go ahead ‘on the basis that it is delivered within existing air quality obligations’.

Developers will need to include detailed proposals as to how they will mitigate any increases in air pollution at the planning stage, DfT has said.

Speaking today, Mr Grayling said: “This marks a critical step towards ensuring future generations have the international connections we need, as well as strengthening the links between all parts of the UK and our global hub.

“I have always been clear that this issue goes beyond party politics, and this result demonstrates the clear desire to get on with delivering this vital scheme.

“There is still much to be done, including defending this decision against the potential legal challenges, but we are absolutely committed to working closely with local communities and ensuring Heathrow stick to their promises on addressing the local and environmental impacts of expansion.”

However, opponents remain sceptical that this commitment can be honoured with some questioning how an increase in passengers and flights can be accommodated without any negative impact on air pollution from surface level transport, as well as the potential emissions created during the construction of the new runway.

Judicial review

Three west London councils: Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham, have indicated that they will seek a Judicial Review to challenge the decision — having described the plans as a ‘nightmare’ for air quality in the area.

The north west runway (left) would be the third runway at Heathrow airport if built

Cllr Gareth Roberts, leader of Richmond council, said: “The councils have pointed out repeatedly that Heathrow contributes to illegal and lethal air pollution. Even with measures to cope with pollution, a new airport will cause further deterioration and, contrary to the government’s optimistic and fanciful figures, risk illegal levels of pollution in the future. The government has still offered no evidence showing how air quality obligations can be achieved.

“We will fight this proposal through the courts and we will win because the alternative is to condemn thousands of people to premature deaths from dangerous levels of air pollution.

“We will use all the tools at our disposal to end this third runway nightmare once and for all.”


ClientEarth — the environmental law charity at the centre of the legal case against the government’s air quality plan has also said it will be ‘closely monitoring’ the proposals for the development of the new runway.

Speaking today, ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton, said: “The government’s proposal says that consent for Heathrow expansion must be refused unless the airport can prove that a third runway would not affect the UK’s compliance with air quality legal obligations.

“So the government has taken arguably one of the most difficult aspects of this application and dumped it on the planning inspectorate to sort out. The Department for Transport’s own analysis says that there is a high risk expansion will delay compliance with air quality laws.

“In the meantime, the scheme will leave people exposed to more air pollution. This is in direct contravention of the government’s obligations and disregards some of the court findings in our successful legal challenges against ministers.”


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