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Any expansion of Heathrow could be delayed for decades due to air quality issues, a new study claims.
The Gatwick-supported report by a global environmental consulting firm found that Heathrow’s expansion plan could lead to breaches in EU and UK air quality laws.
Should the government approve Heathrow’s expansion plans, it would be doing so without any certainty that the UK’s legal obligations under the 2008 EU Air Quality Directive and the UK implementing regulations could be met, according to the report by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and Clear Air Thinking.
A high level of local air pollution was cited as the government’s main reason for turning down another runway at Heathrow in 2003.
ERM found Heathrow has not provided any evidence that expansion at the airport would not increase nitrogen dioxide - NO2 - levels above legal standards or delay attainment of the limits.
Nor has Heathrow included any quantification on how the airport’s proposed pollution mitigation measures – including a road congestion charge – would solve this issue, the report suggests.
Congested road traffic flows are a major influence on NO2 emissions and the report points out that construction traffic and major changes to the road network will further reduce the likelihood of compliance.
London has some of worst NO2 spots in Europe. However, Gatwick has never breached EU and UK annual air quality limits and the airport has committed to maintaining this record if it is allowed to build second runway.
This can be done as the airport is located in a largely rural, sparsely populated area, and is also used by one of the cleanest aircraft fleets in Europe, Gatwick claims.
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “The UK needs a new runway but the decision about where it should be built must take into account the environmental impact it would have, especially in terms of noise and air quality.
“The air quality around Heathrow is critical to the airport’s development plans - if legal standards cannot be met around Heathrow, then expansion there would be unlawful.
“Gatwick has never breached legal air quality limits and would still operate within these standards with a second runway.
“Gatwick’s expansion plans strike the right balance between delivering the extra airport capacity, while taking the right steps to protect the environment.”
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