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Government projections reveal a two runway Heathrow would be second worst area for air pollution in the UK by 2030

20th February, 2015


Information published by Defra has revealed that air pollution on the A4, which is the road running along the north border of Heathrow airport, is forecast to be the second highest in the UK by 2030, and still in breach of legal limits, without building a third runway.

The A4 was forecast to have annual nitrogen dioxide levels of 47 and 48 in 2030, above the legal limit. The projections were released as part of a Freedom of Information request by Clean Air in London.

In an article in the Times, a Heathrow spokesperson is reported as saying “We take air quality very seriously and have always said we will only go ahead with Heathrow expansion if we can do so within strict air quality limits.”

If this is the case, the aviation industry could be waiting many years for a third runway. Any decision to expand when air pollution levels continue to be breached could be open to legal challenge.

In its recent consultation on options for expanding South East airports, the Airports Commission did not (as our response highlighted) produce detailed modelling of the local air quality impacts of expanding any of the options, claiming that the Commission and consultants had not had enough time to complete the work it had promised to undertake.

The data now released by Defra finding that air pollution around Heathrow will be the second worst in the country highlights the seriousness of this shortcoming in the Commission’s analysis.

Cait Hewitt, AEF Deputy Director, commented:

“Air pollution has always had the potential to be a show stopper in Heathrow’s expansion plans.

The projections published by the Government reveal the extent of the air pollution problem around Heathrow between now and 2030 without even building a third runway.  It now looks impossible for a third runway to be operational at Heathrow before 2030 – as the Commission proposes – without breaching legal air quality limits.

Questions must be asked about the Airports Commission’s decision not to carry out detailed modelling of the air quality impact of a new runway prior to publishing its final consultation.”


Download air quality projections here.

For more information on air pollution and expansion, see our briefing.