Airport expansion decision delayed to assess air quality

But government has asserted that further airport capacity is still needed in South East England, whether at Heathrow or Gatwick

The government has opted to carry out a further assessment of possible air quality and environmental impacts before making a final decision next year over whether to expand either Heathrow or Gatwick airport.

A decicion on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick airport is now not expected until summer 2016 at the earliest

A decicion on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick airport is now not expected until summer 2016 at the earliest

The delay means continued uncertainty over future UK airport capacity, which has angered both anti-runway campaigners as well as pro-expansion business groups. It also means a decision will now come after next May’s London Mayoral election, for which air quality and Heathrow are major issues.

Following a meeting of several cabinet members last night (December 10), the Department for Transport (DfT) said it wanted to carry out “more work on environmental impacts” of possible airport expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick — work which it expects to conclude next summer.

This work will also look at developing “the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment”, with the government stating that it “expects the airports to put forward ambitious solutions” to environmental concerns such as air pollution.

The delay comes despite the Prime Minister David Cameron previously asserting that a final decision would be made before the end of 2015.

However, the government has now asserted that more capacity is needed in the South East, suggesting that it will opt for either Heathrow or Gatwick expansion, rather than no expansion at all.

Today's report includes this table of the NO2 impacts of the three schemes

The Davies’ Commission’s July report included this table of the NO2 impacts of the three possible schemes

Air quality analysis

Set up by the government in 2012 to report on UK airport capacity, the independent Airports Commission recommended in July that a third runway should be constructed at the North side of Heathrow as long as key environmental — including air quality — concerns were addressed (see story).

Now, DfT says it will test the Airports Commission’s air quality analysis “using the latest projected future concentrations of nitrogen dioxide” and that it anticipates the package of further environmental work to conclude next summer.

Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, said yesterday (December 10): “The case for aviation expansion is clear — but it’s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come. We will undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon.

“We must develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people. We will continue work on all the shortlisted locations, so that the timetable for more capacity set out by Sir Howard is met. At the first opportunity I will make a statement to the House to make clear our plans.”


Earlier this week, environmental NGO ClientEarth said delaying a decision over whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick would be “a victory for air quality and common sense” as it would show the PM had “decided to stop and think about the impact that this would have on air quality” (see story).

However, yesterday’s announcement has elsewhere prompted criticism, with the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas MP calling the delay “unacceptable when a rejection is what’s needed”.

She said politics made the decision “difficult for government” but that expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick “would be bad news for local residents who will suffer enormously from increasing noise and air pollution”.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Oliver Hayes said the delay was “no surprise” but called for a tax on frequent fliers “who are contributing most to the air pollution and carbon problems that aviation exacerbates”.


Heathrow asserted yesterday that it had “full confidence that expansion can be delivered within environmental limits” adding that a third runway has support “locally and nationally from politicians, business, trade unions and the aviation industry”.

Gatwick Airport, meanwhile, described the delay as a “defining moment” in the airport expansion debate leaving the momentum “firmly behind Gatwick as the only legal option for expansion”.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport chief executive, said: “We are glad that the government recognises that more work on environmental impact needs to be done. Air quality, for example, is a public health priority and obviously the legal safeguards around it cannot be wished away.”


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Richard Carter
Richard Carter
8 years ago

Does anyone know who has been contracted to carry out the environmental assessment?

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