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Labour goes it alone on Heathrow expansion

15th January, 2009

The Government has today confirmed its support for Heathrow expansion, giving the go-ahead for a planning application to build a third runway and sixth terminal. Both the main opposition parties – the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – have vowed to scrap the plans if elected. A long battle lies ahead.

AEF is concerned that:

On noise, the plans fail to take into account the findings of the ANASE report that it is not only the average noise level that matters to local communities but also the number of flights passing overhead. This is set to increase considerably, from 480,000 to 605,000 in the first phase.

On air quality, there is no restriction on movements until after the runway has been constructed, and it would surely take a brave government to intervene at that stage to deny BAA any opportunity to recoup its construction costs.

And on climate, all projections -­­­ including the government’s own updated forecasts, released today – indicate that carbon emissions from aviation will increase; the new target that by 2050 aviation will be emitting no more greenhouse gases than in 2005 is little more than a pipedream. Despite the reassurance that the Committee on Climate Change will have the opportunity to review progress in 2020, we have seen no clear evidence on how technology could deliver the radical changes needed thereafter.


Transport minister Geoff Hoon today announced that having analysed the 70,000 responses to the public consultation on adding capacity at Heathrow, the Government’s plans are:

  • To permit the building of a third runway, subject to planning approval
  • To abandon plans for mixed mode operation, which could have increased the airport’s capacity in the short term but meant an end to the eight-hour respite from noise for residents under the flight paths
  • To end the ‘Cranford agreement’, which currently limits easterly departures from the northern runway to protect the community there from noise
  • To impose an initial cap on movements once the third runway becomes operational of 605,000, rather than the initial plan for a cap of 702,000.

Any increases in flight numbers will, he announced, be subject to noise and air quality tests. Flights from the third runway will be permitted only if (1) the UK is, by the time the runway is built, complying with EU air quality regulations (to be assessed by the Environment Agency), (2) the size of the 57 decibel noise contour around Heathrow has not increased (to be assessed by the CAA), and (3) an increase in flights would not cause either of these conditions to be violated.

In addition, a new target has been introduced on climate impacts: that by 2050 aviation emissions must be below 2005 levels. This is to be monitored by the Committee on Climate Change and assessed in 2020. Any flights above the 605,000 cap will be permitted only if, at that time, the Committee deems it possible to accommodate the extra greenhouse gas emissions within the UK’s commitment to reduce its total emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.  The Government still hopes to increase the movement limit to 702,000 by 2030.

Environmental campaigners have vowed to challenge the decision to approve a third runway. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has pledged financial support for a legal challenge, while Greenpeace announced earlier this week that it has purchased some of the land in the village of Sipson that BAA would need for construction of a third runway.

For the full text of the minister’s announcement, see the DfT website.