UK committee urges gov't not to approve Heathrow expansion without environmental compliance

LONDON – Britain’s government should not give the go-ahead for the expansion of Heathrow airport until its officials can show they will comply with air quality, noise and other environmental concerns, a parliamentary committee report said Tuesday.

The Environmental Audit Committee chair, Huw Irranca-Davies, said the purpose of the report was not to re-open the debate on whether there should be airport expansion or where it should be. But the Labour Party lawmaker said the airport must demonstrate that it can reconcile expansion with legal air pollution limits and other concerns.

“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,” Irranca-Davies said.

London and southeastern England needs more airport capacity to meet the growing demands of business travellers and tourists. Heathrow and rival Gatwick, 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of central London, have offered competing projects that will cost as much as 18.6 billion pounds ($29.1 billion).

The government is believed to be nearing a decision on which proposal to choose after Britain’s Airports Commission unanimously recommended the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport.

The commission decided that Heathrow presented a stronger case for the British economy than rival Gatwick. However, it stressed that Europe’s largest airport needs to address air quality, noise and community concerns.

The committee concluded there was a gap between the government’s current policies and the policies modelled by the commission to show that “expansion could be achieved within CO2 limits.”

“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,” 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 skepticism as to whether they can be met in practice.”

Heathrow did not directly address any of the committee’s concerns in a statement Tuesday. However it said the committee was 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.”