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MPs say environmental conditions must be met for third Heathrow runway

Published 01/12/2015

A general view of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport
A general view of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport

Final approval for a third runway at Heathrow should not be granted until the airport demonstrates it can meet key environmental conditions on climate change, air quality and noise, a committee of MPs has said.

The Davies Commission recommended the construction of the controversial third runway in a report in July, but the Government has not yet made clear whether it will give the scheme the go-ahead. Ministers have promised to announce their decision by the end of this year.

In a new report, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee warned that a failure to deal with environmental concerns could lay the scheme open to legal challenge.

The cross-party committee called on Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to offer assurances that all environmental conditions will be met before Parliament's approval is sought for the expansion of the west London airport.

Committee chairman Huw Irranca-Davies said: "To defer dealing with the environmental impact of a third runway would be irresponsible and 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."

The MPs said that the airport must demonstrate that it can reconcile Heathrow expansion with legal air pollution limits, as well as committing to a night-flight ban and to covering the cost of improved transport links and showing that an expanded airport will be less noisy than one with two runways.

"The Government has a duty to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in London to protect the health and well-being of its population," said Mr Irranca-Davies.

"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."

The Government should put in place a strategy to deliver carbon emissions from aviation no higher than 2005 levels by 2050, in line with the economy-wide target set by the Climate Change Act, said the report

"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," said Mr Irranca-Davies.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "This report is yet another nail in the coffin of Heathrow expansion. It is clear this project is undeliverable - on noise, on air quality, on costs - it fails every test.

"For more than 40 years the British public have endured a pilgrimage of pain over Heathrow. It's time to draw stumps. We need to think bigger and better.

"Heathrow expansion is a sham, a snare and a delusion, and it will not happen. The Prime Minister was right when he said 'no ifs, no buts, no third runway'.

"That was the policy, it remains the policy - and a very good policy it is too."

A spokesman for Heathrow said the EAC was "absolutely right" that the environmental impact of a third runway must be considered alongside the economic benefits, and insisted that its plan for expansion will result in a quieter airport with better public transport and improved air quality.

He added: " There is no obstacle to the Government announcing their support for the independent expert commission's unambiguous and unanimous recommendation to expand Heathrow."

Heathrow has previously expressed a commitment to increase the amount of time each night without any scheduled flights but said the start and finish time of a night flight ban should be decided by the Government through consultation with the local community.

But Gatwick Airport, which also wants to expand, claimed the EAC report demonstrates the "overwhelming environmental obstacles" faced by Heathrow.

The airport's chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: " This is a highly significant intervention by the Environment Audit Committee just days before the Government is due to make its decision on airport expansion.

"The committee questions the entire legal basis of the Airports Commission report on air quality and highlights the many other environmental hurdles facing Heathrow expansion.

"It is increasingly clear only expansion at Gatwick is legal and can actually happen."

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