New Report: Government May Already be Acting Illegally over Air Pollution Limits at Heathrow

MPs to Seek Meeting with European Commissioner “This could be the report that sinks the 3rd runway at Heathrow”

A new report launched yesterday in the House of Commons has prompted a cross-party group of MPs (1) to seek an urgent meeting in Brussels with the European Commissioner for the Environment. The report, Emissions:Impossible, argues that the Government could already be in breach of EU regulations at Heathrow.

The report also argues that it is almost certain that a 3rd runway would breach the EU legal limits on air pollution (2). In order to keep within the EU limits by the time a third runway opened, around 2015, the Department for Transport would need to have found a way of cutting pollution levels by 20% while still catering for a 35% increase in the number of planes using the airport.

But the finding which will be of most immediate concern to the Government is the claim that it may already be breaking EU rules. The report argues that it is a common misconception that legal limits on air pollution do not come into force until 2010: in fact there are already legally-binding limits which were breached at Heathrow in both 2003 and 2004 (3).

John McDonnell MP, Chair of the group which commissioned the report, said, “On the basis of this report our group has decided to seek an urgent meeting with the European Commissioner for the Environment. It appears that the Government may already be acting illegally. We will also be seeking a meeting with Alistair Darling.”

McDonnell added, “It is just not acceptable that my constituents around Heathrow are being poisoned because of the obsession to bring ever more planes into Heathrow.”

Susan Kramer, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, said, “This report has made me even more cynical about what the Government is up to in its modelling of air pollution. I’m afraid it will use whatever figures it comes up with as an excuse to claim that more flights can be permitted despite the evident impact on the community and the environment.”

John Randall, Conservative MP for Uxbridge, said, “I welcome this independent report. It is a first-class piece of research. The Government should abandon its plans for a third runway now.”

John Stewart, Chair of the campaign group HACAN ClearSkies, said, “This is the report that should sink the third runway. But what is perhaps even more startling about the report is that it has produced hard evidence which suggests that the Government may already be in breach of EU laws at Heathrow. We are discussing this with our lawyers.”

The Department for Transport had been expected to publish its own assessment of future air pollution levels around Heathrow at the end of last year. It is now expected within the next month.


Notes for Editors:

(1). Emissions: Impossible was commissioned from the Aviation Environment Federation by a group of MPs, local authorities in West London and Berkshire and the Mayor of London. The Aviation Environment Federation is an independent organisation which has done work for both DEFRA and the European Commission.

The MPs and local authorities come together under the name of Project Heathrow Watch. Chaired by John McDonnell MP (Lab Hayes and Harlington), other MPs associated with the group include Adam Afriyie (Con Windsor), Vincent Cable (Lib Dem Twickenham), Justine Greening (Con Putney), Alan Keen (Lab Feltham and Heston), Ann Keen (Lab Brentford and Isleworth), Susan Kramer (Lib Dem Richmond Park), Therese May (Con Maidenhead), John Randall (Con Uxbridge), Joan Ruddock (Lab Deptford). Local authority support has come from Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead. It has also received support from the Mayor of London and from the Greater London Authority. Peers associated with the group include Baroness Sally Hamwee and Baroness Jenny Tonge. Local campaign groups NOTRAG and HACAN are also part of Project Heathrow Watch.

(2). The EU regulations state that by 2010 the concentration of NO2 should fall below, and remain below, 40 microgrammes per cubic metre (ug/m3). According to earlier DfT work, this limit could only be met if, in addition to a host of other improbable measures, the M4 and the spur were placed in a tunnel “with vent stacks which have scrubbers 100% effective removing NOx”.,

(3). The EU limit, although talked about as coming into force in 2010, has actually been binding since 2001. However ‘margins of tolerance’ are also specified, which reduce each year until 2010, when the final limit of 40 ug/m3 applies. So the limit for 2003 was 54 ug/m3 (Heathrow was at 59 ug/m3) and the limit for 2004 was 52 ug/m3 (Heathrow was at 55 ug/m3).

For further information contact:

John Stewart, 0207 737 6641, 07957385650

John McDonnell MP, 0208 569 0010

Pete Lockley, Aviation Environment Federation, one of the report’s authors, 0207 248 2223