Environmental Audit Committee Publishes Its Report
The government should not support the building of a third runway at Heathrow until a number of environmental conditions can be met, according to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on 1st December.
The committee of MPs heard evidence following the publication of The Airports Commission final report that was published own 1st July this year. That report favoured a third runway at Heathrow over a second at Gatwick or an extended northern runway at Heathrow. It has ruled out all other possibilities for the South East, including a brand new airport in the Thames Estuary.
But the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report said firm plans to deal with climate-changing emissions, air quality and noise need to be put in place.
It has to be remember that Heathrow has always known that it would have an uphill struggle to build a runway if it could not meet EU legal limits for pollution, for example, but has been unable to meet the levels. The recent VW scandal has demonstrated the lengths that some companies will go to distort emissions figures. If meeting pollution targets was simple, it would have happened by now. It will not happen if Heathrow builds a third runway.
The government has said that it will make a decision by the end of the year but campaigners are skeptical. The government will have to make some sort of announcement, probably as close to the Christmas holidays as possible, but long grass could beckon to avoid a controversial decision before the London Mayoral election in May.
Chair of the EAC, Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies, said it would be “irresponsible” to postpone dealing with the environmental impact of expansion at Heathrow.
He warned that to do so “could lead to legal challenges as a result of the potential damage to public health from increased air pollution and noise”.
“If the government decides to accept the commission’s recommendation for a third runway in principle, we will seek assurances from the secretary of state for transport that environmental conditions will be met before it is given final approval,” he added.
The cross-party committee said legal air pollution limits would have to be reached if the west London airport expands and also called for a ban on night flights, which has been a major issue and drawn areas into the debate.
The MPs said the airport had to show that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than it is with two runways. Their report also called for Heathrow to say it would cover the costs of surface transport improvements.
The Airports Commission has already called for flights between 23:30 and 06:00 to be banned, something that almost certainly will never happen. Heathrow says it plans to cut emissions by encouraging people to use public transport. This seems unlikely because car parking is one of the biggest money spinners for the airport.
Mr Irranca-Davies said: “The communities living near to the roads around Heathrow already put up with noise and extra traffic.
“It would be quite unacceptable to subject them to a potentially significant deterioration in air quality as well.”
A strategy to deliver aviation emissions at no higher than 2005 levels by 2050 should be put in place by the government, the committee’s report recommended.
It also called for a Community Engagement Board to be set up to increase trust between local residents and the government. Many SHE members are regular attenders of Heathrow meetings and do not believe that the creation of another group will result in significant improvements.
Mr Irranca-Davies said: “Planes are becoming more fuel efficient, but this alone will not keep aviation emissions in line with the government’s climate change targets given the growth in passenger numbers.
“Even without expansion, aviation is on track to exceed its climate change target. We heard evidence that those targets might be met in theory, but at present there is a policy vacuum and evidence-based scepticism as to whether they can be met in practice.”