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MPs’ damning review of proposals to mitigate Heathrow environmental impacts

23rd February, 2017

The Government has so far failed to prove that Heathrow expansion can be delivered within environmental limits, a committee of MPs has concluded. In a highly critical report, the Environmental Audit Committee said that its earlier warnings had not resulted in the necessary ‘step change’ in approach needed to show Heathrow expansion would not result in unacceptable impacts on the environment.

Citing concerns about air quality, climate change and noise impacts, the committee said that the evidence presented so far was insufficient to allow proper consideration of the runway proposal set out in the Airports ‘National Policy Statement (NPS)’. The NPS was meant to provide the rationale for the project and demonstrate that it was deliverable within legal limits to protect the environment, but the Committee identified numerous gaps.

“To inform the National Policy Statement process”, the report argues, “the Government needs to set out new modelling on air quality following the High Court’s latest ruling and a new approach to air quality post 2019; an emissions reduction strategy that will allow the UK’s carbon budgets to be met and effective noise mitigation measures enforced by an Independent Aviation Noise Authority.”

AEF evidence on climate change

AEF was one of a handful of organisations invited to submit written evidence to the committee as part on a new report, which included hearing oral evidence from the Transport Secretary. The committee was keen to assess what progress had been made by Government on setting out appropriate environmental measures and conditions for Heathrow expansion following its report in 2015 on the Airports Commission’s recommendations. Our evidence set out concerns on noise, air quality and climate change, in particular noting that key pieces of analysis would not be complete until after the NPS had been considered and potentially voted on.

The Committee’s new report draws heavily on our work on climate change. It highlights the need for Government to produce a strategy for limiting aviation CO2 emissions in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change, and notes that the international offsetting deal agreed by the UN hasn’t closed off the ‘policy gap’ on this issue. “The Government claims that Heathrow expansion can be delivered within ‘the UK’s climate change obligations’”, the report notes, but “has not set out what it means by ‘obligations’, let alone how it will meet them.”

The NPS has now entered a period of official public and parliamentary scrutiny. The Transport Committee, traditionally supportive of airport expansion, has launched its own inquiry into the Airports NPS and has requested submissions addressing a range of topics including how well the proposal takes account of sustainability and environmental considerations, as well as how comprehensive the proposal is in terms of the supporting measures for affected communities. Submissions are requested before 24th March.