Heathrow expansion could ‘breach EU air quality law’

Gatwick-commissioned report criticises air pollution mitigation measures in Heathrow expansion scheme

Expanding capacity at Heathrow Airport would add ‘substantial’ nitrogen dioxide pollution to the area and thereby put such a scheme in breach of UK and EU law, according to a report commissioned by Gatwick Airport.

The Davies Commission will report on options for UK airport capacity later in 2015

The Davies Commission will report on options for UK airport capacity later in 2015

However, Heathrow Airport said in response that it was “confident” that full analysis of its mitigation will confirm that Heathrow expansion is “compatible with meeting local air quality limits”.

The Davies Commission is set to publish its final report on options to increase UK airport capacity this summer, with both Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport vying against each other for approval from policy makers to build another runway (see story).

And, ahead of the Davies Commission’s report, Gatwick commissioned environmental consultants Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and Clean Air Thinking to report on the potential air quality implications of expanding Heathrow.

Published last week (April 16), the report states that increased road traffic in the long-term, as well as the short-term construction-phase effects of a new Heathrow runway, would “inevitably introduce substantial additional sources of NOx (leading to additional NO2) into an area that is already struggling to attain the limit value”.

In addition, the report claims that Heathrow’s suggested air pollution mitigation measures — including incentivising aircraft with lower NOx emissions and low emission operational vehicles — while “potentially beneficial” will have “little effect on the risk of non-compliance with the NO2 limit value at locations near the road network”.

Prepared by ERM’s Gavin Bollan and Clean Air Thinking’s Roger Barrowcliffe — who is also the current chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) — the report criticises Heathrow’s mitigation measures as “generalised in nature” and for lacking examination of quantification of the potential effects of these measures.

The report concludes: “There is no certainty that the annual mean NO2 limit value could be met with a Heathrow Scheme being constructed and operated. There are no assurances that the construction and operation of a Heathrow scheme could be undertaken without delaying compliance with NO2 limits values.”

The report follows the publication of Defra figures in February which detailed the projected nitrogen dioxide levels including breaches of EU limits along several major roads around the West London airport up to 2030 (see story).

Gatwick Airport

According to Gatwick Airport, London “has some of the worst NO2 spots in Europe,” while Gatwick has in contrast “never breached EU and UK annual air quality limits and the airport has committed to maintaining this record if it built a second runway”.

Commenting on the report, Gatwick Airport chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “The UK needs a new runway but the decision about where it should be built must take into account the environmental impact it would have, especially in terms of noise and air quality.

“The air quality around Heathrow is critical to the airport’s development plans — if legal standards cannot be met around Heathrow, then expansion there would be unlawful.

“Gatwick has never breached legal air quality limits and would still operate within these standards with a second runway. Gatwick’s expansion plans strike the right balance between delivering the extra airport capacity, while taking the right steps to protect the environment.”


In response, Heathrow Airport said the Davies Commission has not yet completed its work in some areas and that its analysis of road traffic and air quality emissions does not yet account for mitigation measures proposed by Heathrow.

A spokeswoman for Heathrow said: “We are confident that once the Commission has modelled our proposed mitigation measures it will confirm that Heathrow expansion is compatible with meeting local air quality limits.”

The Heathrow spokesperson also highlighted measures such as the ‘world’s largest single site employee car share scheme’ at the airport, as well as the ‘first publicly accessible’ hydrogen refuelling site. She also said Heathrow was looking at further cycle improvements and electric charging points for taxis and hybrid buses.

The spokeswoman added: “Heathrow’s expansion will only go ahead if it is meets strict environmental limits on local air quality, and with a comprehensive surface access strategy that will allow airport expansion without increasing airport related road traffic. We will incentivise staff and passengers to use our enhanced public transport network, that will include Crossrail, Western and Southern Rail Access and improved tube services, reduce staff car parking spaces, and look at a potential congestion charge to help reduce the number of people travelling to the airport by car.”

Related Links:

Heathrow NO2 Report ERM

Gatwick Airport-designed infographic on Heathrow air pollution ‘Over the limit’.


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