Government plans to delay air pollution improvements in 12 UK areas have been refused by the European Commission. The UK may now face fines if it fails to improve air quality quickly.
The worst offender is London, where it is estimated that there over 4,000 ‘excess deaths’ pa from air pollution. This could have implications for Heathrow expansion.
Air pollution is recognised by the government as the second-biggest public health threat, after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20bn a year – more than twice the amount estimated for obesity, which gets far more publicity. Air pollution reduces average life expectancy in the UK by up to eight months, according to the government’s own statistics.
A judgement will be made at a later date on government plans to delay meeting NO2 standards in major cities until 2020 – or in the case of London, 2025.
The current decision by the EC addresses the shorter term, whereas a third runway at Heathrow could not be operation for about 10 years. However, the tough stance by the EC suggests that any plan for Heathrow expansion, which increased air pollution and prevented limits being met, would face legal action.