Setback for Government as MPs say air pollution plan needed BEFORE vote on Heathrow

A cross-party group of MPs has today blasted the Government’s approach to Heathrow expansion, saying it is still not doing enough to demonstrate that it can mitigate the environmental impacts of a Third Runway.  And its key National Policy Statement on Heathrow expansion will be incomplete if it not considered within the context of a new Air Quality Plan that is months away from being published, it says. 


The Government must provide greater detail and assurances on key issues including air quality, carbon emissions and noise impacts ahead of the publication of the final National Policy Statement on Heathrow expansion, an influential cross-party Parliamentary committee has said today.

The Environmental Audit Committee has said that the effectiveness of the Government’s new air quality plan, ordered by the High Court to be ready by July 2017, “will be integral to determining whether Heathrow expansion can be delivered within legal limits”.

It has expressed concerns that consideration of the impact of the new air quality plan within the timescale currently set out for the NPS will not be possible – raising the prospect of a delay.

“We are concerned that the timing of the draft NPS consultation means the government will be unable to carry out a comprehensive re-analysis of the air quality impacts, using the new air quality plan, before the consultation process is complete“.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:

If the Government wants to get Heathrow expansion off the ground it needs to show that a third runway can be built and run without exceeding legal limits on air pollution or breaching our carbon budgets.

“We have seen little evidence of the ‘step change’ in the Government’s approach we called for in our previous report.

“Worryingly, the Government looks set to water down the limits on aviation emissions recommended by its own climate change advisors. That would mean other sectors of the economy, like energy and industry, having to cut their carbon emissions even deeper and faster.

“Mitigating the air quality, carbon and noise impacts of a new runway cannot be an afterthought. Ministers must work harder to show that Heathrow expansion can be done within the UK’s legally binding environmental commitments.”

What's the fuss about?  The National Policy Statement will lay out the grounds on which approval for a Third Runway will be determined once it has been fully debated by MPs. However the current consultation on its draft NPS will only end on 25th May, and it says it will need until the Autum to consider responses.  With publication of the final NPS and subsequent vote in Parliament due either at the end of this year or early in 2018, that leaves little time to factor in consideration of the new Air Quality Plan.


What the Environmental Audit Committee said

Air Quality 

  • The UK has already breached EU NO2 limits in London for 2017. A new air quality strategy is urgently required to ensure that airport expansion is not granted at the expense of public health.  The Committee is concerned that the Government has given no guarantees that air quality targets will be maintained after the UK leaves the EU.
  • The promise not to increase road traffic at Heathrow needs to be rigorously monitored, with clear accountability and consequences for failure. The MPs are concerned that the Government is relying on people switching to cleaner cars to reduce air pollution but have no confidence the Government will meet their targets for uptake. The report calls on the Government to implement an alert system for people who are especially vulnerable to short-term exposure to air pollution in London.

Carbon emissions

  • Scant detail has been provided on the Government’s approach to carbon emissions limits. The figures used by Ministers for the costs and benefits of expansion are based on a hypothetical international framework to reduce emissions which does not yet exist. The figures would leave international aviation emissions 15% higher than the level assumed in the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget, which runs from 2028-32.
  • The Government is considering rejecting the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change on the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. The Government should publish an independently scrutinised strategy to reduce carbon emissions from international aviation and set out the resulting costs on other sectors to test their feasibility and desirability.


  • Measures on noise lack ambition; with no precision offered on the timing of a night flight ban and little evidence that predictable respite can be achieved. The case for an Independent Aviation Noise Authority with powers to enforce policy recommendations remains clear. The Committee is concerned that the Government is watering down the powers it intends to give to a new noise oversight body.

You can read the full report The Airports Commission Report Follow-up: Carbon Emissions, Air Quality and Noise on the website.

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