Transport Secretary defends Heathrow backing

Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling has told MPs that Heathrow airport expansion can take place without breaching emission limits in West London, at a hearing yesterday (30 November).

Mr Grayling was speaking at an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) hearing yesterday (30 November), alongside Caroline Low, director of airport capacity at the Department for Transport (DfT), where they were quizzed about carbon emissions, air quality and noise issues concerning the proposed third runway at Heathrow.

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

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

In October, the government announced that it backed the development of additional capacity at the airport in West London, claiming that the expansion is ‘deliverable within air quality limits’ (see story).

Pressed by EAC chair Mary Creagh about the High Court’s ruling on the government’s Air Quality Plan, Mr Grayling said: “I don’t think that the air quality issue addressed in the Supreme [High] Court and the challenge around reducing the levels of NOx are part of the same debate as the Heathrow expansion.”

“The whole West London air pollution problem is not a Heathrow airport problem, it’s a different issue that we have to solve,” Mr Grayling said.

Claiming that a “material difference” will have to be made before the runway ever happens, Mr Grayling said: “I don’t think the issue of reducing NOx emissions can possibly wait for the runway to open.”

Pollution challenge

Mr Grayling added: “My own view and that of the government is that we need to take steps to address [air quality challenges] way before we ever get to addressing the issue of opening the runway.”

“We can’t wait until 2026 to make a real difference in air quality. The assumption seems to be that nothing is going to happen between now and then, and of course that can’t be the case,” he said, highlighting the government’s commitment to driving the development of low emission technologies.

Pressed on whether the Heathrow decision was based on underestimated levels of pollutants — as suggested during the High Court case — Mr Grayling said that although analysis of the latest data is not yet completed, the new round of data suggests “that we can still deliver this [expansion] within the air quality thresholds.”


“This is not just about what happens to Heathrow in the next 30 years, it’s about what happens to aviation in the United Kingdom in the next 30 years,” Mr Grayling said, adding that “We shouldn’t be taking strategic decisions about the future of aviation simply in the context of a problem that is a much broader one, that we have to deal with through a much broader strategy.”

However, Mr Grayling said that while he is confident that the Heathrow expansion can be delivered without breaching emission obligations, he emphasised that the government is “not going to give the final go ahead to this airport unless we are satisfied that it can meet the thresholds that we have talked about” and that he intends to hold Heathrow to its commitments.


Asked about the impact of the EU Referendum, Mr Grayling said he could not conceive of “this government or a successive government wanting to water down air quality standards.”

While he said it was “not for me to judge what Parliament decides to do,” he added that it is expected that the legal limits will be transposed to UK law once it exits the European Union.


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