Pollution Ruling Will Force Next Government To Meet Targets

Judges at the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, have ruled that the next government must take immediate action over its obligations under European law on air pollution limits.

ClientEarth celebrate winning the battle to get government to tackle air quality.

ClientEarth celebrate winning the battle to get government to tackle air quality.

ClientEarth, an environmental campaign group of lawyers, has worked for five years on the case to ensure the government prioritises meeting the European Union law on limits of nitrogen dioxide.

Announcing the decision, Lord Carnwath said: “The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue.”

The main culprits are diesel powered vehicles, particularly trucks and older buses. London, Leeds and Birmingham were the three cities singled out in an ITV report as being the areas that will have the biggest problem reaching air quality targets by 2030.

The day before, the World Health Organisation said air pollution costs the UK £54bn a year in diseases and death, while ClientEarth contends that it kills 29,000 people prematurely every year in this country.

So what does this mean for any forthcoming decision on airport expansion?
Heathrow has always reassured local communities that it would not expect to get permission for further expansion if it could not meet environmental targets. Since it is not meeting targets at monitors on the M4 north of Heathrow and in Hayes, Heathrow cannot expect to be given the go ahead.

Residents were promised throughout the previous third runway campaign (2002-2010) that air quality targets would be met so that air quality in 2015 would be within EU limits. (2015 was when the third runway was planned to be operational.) In fact this has proved impossible. Anti-Runway campaigners at the time insisted that the Heathrow calculations were unreliable. They have been proved right.

If Heathrow gets a third runway, it plans to add up to 260,000 flights a year and this will massively increase the road traffic. Plans show a massive road building programme, including a road tunnel under the new runway to take the M25, redirected local roads plus spare lanes for future use. The A4 would be moved closer to West Drayton town centre and widened. Heathrow’s aircraft carry large quantities of freight so, with a huge increase in flight, the airport will need more freight vehicles and a larger depot to the south of the airport. More car park places are also on the cards, of course. Oh, and Heathrow are already saying they will have another look at the hire vehicles which park in all the roads around the airport waiting for passengers. In winter, drivers sit with their engines running for hours.

Heathrow has created a 10-point plan to try to tackle air pollution but lets face it, if it was easy to cut the pollution they would have done it by now. The action points just tinker with the problem. Increasing the number of passengers, by using larger aircraft, will increase road traffic even before a third runway was built. A bigger low emissions zone is futile if the numbers of polluting vehicles are set to increase.

We have been saying that a third runway at Heathrow is undeliverable, now there can surely be no doubt.