The Government should not approve Heathrow expansion until the airport can demonstrate it will comply with key environmental conditions, an influential group of cross-party MPs has said.
In a report released today, members of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) laid down a list of demands to mitigate the environmental impact of a third runway at Heathrow following the recommendation of the Airports Commission that it be allowed to expand.
The MPs said the airport must demonstrate that it can ‘reconcile Heathrow expansion with legal air pollution limits; commit to covering the costs of surface transport improvements; commit to introducing a night flight ban; and show that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than a two runway Heathrow’.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP
To cover the costs of necessary surface transport improvements alone, the estimated £17.6bn construction cost for the third runway at Heathrow could double in size, Transport for London (TfL) has said.
In response to the Airports Commission’s backing of Heathrow, TfL told the Greater London Authority transport committee that it could cost between £15bn and £20bn for the necessary improvements to cope with increased demand.
The committee also turned its fire on government stating that in terms climate change, air quality and noise, ministers needed to end the ‘policy vacuum’ and ‘set out concrete proposals for mitigation alongside clear responsibilities and milestones against which performance can be measured’.
Committee chair, Huw Irranca-Davies, said: ‘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.’
MPs picked holes in the case for Heathrow stating it found a gap between the Government’s current policies and the policies modelled by the Airports Commission to show expansion could be achieved within CO2 limits.
‘The Government should set out its approach to international negotiations on aviation emissions and put in place a strategy to deliver aviation emissions no higher than 2005 levels by 2050 in line with the economy-wide target set by the Climate Change Act,’ MPs said.
The committee also heard evidence that the commission's interpretation of the Air Quality Directive implied that the major rise in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from Heathrow expansion would be allowable because of worse performance elsewhere in London.
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The MPs called on the Government to make clear this is not the position it intends to take when assessing Heathrow’s compliance with the EU directive on air quality.
Mr Irranca-Davies added: ‘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. Increased pollution should certainly not be permitted on the grounds that other areas of London are even more polluted.’
A Heathrow spokesperson said: 'The EAC is absolutely right that the environmental impact of a third runway must be considered alongside the economic benefits expansion will bring, which is why our new plan for expansion has ensured that Heathrow will be quieter, public transport to the airport will be transformed and air quality will continue to be improved and limits will be met.
'There is no obstacle to the Government announcing their support for the independent expert Commission's unambiguous and unanimous recommendation to expand Heathrow.'
The news comes as Virgin Atlantic, one of the biggest airlines to use Heathrow, attacked the ‘exorbitant cost’ of the third runway plans, after raising fears that the costs would be passed on to operators and eventually passengers.
The parent company of British Airways also raised fears about the burden the existing plans could put on airlines.
A final decision on a new runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow is likely to be delayed till at least next week following the debate over military action in Syria.
A 10-strong cabinet sub-committee led by the prime minister had been due to sit earlier this week to come to a final decision.