Environmental limits could leave £14bn Heathrow third runway empty

A third runway at Heathrow Airport could be left empty due to environmental limits, campaigners claim.

Opponents of the £14bn project have argued that limits on air and noise pollution, likely to be introduced in the new Environment Bill, will leave the controversial runway inoperable.

The claim comes after the government’s decision not to review its Airport National Policy Statement (ANPS) – which provides the basis for plans to build a third runway – despite its commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Robert Barnstone, 28, campaign co-ordinator of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said: “If these air quality targets are not met, once they’re in legislation, then there is the potential of empty runways.

“If emissions are too high, planes won’t be taking off.”

MPs voted to approve the third runway project in 2018 despite concerns from residents about the impact on housing, the local environment, air quality, and noise pollution.

The decision not to bring third runway plans in line with new climate targets removed a major hurdle for the building of the runway but campaigners have renewed their efforts and remain confident that plans will ultimately fail.

Barnstone said: “Certainly in the last week or so there’s been a renewed focus.

“I’ve had campaigners get in touch saying, ‘right, it’s time to dust down the placards’.”

Anti-third runway campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice
LEGAL BATTLE: The third runway was blocked in February 2020 before the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in December 2020. Credit: No 3rd Runway Coalition

Lockdown has raised awareness of the third runway’s potential impact, campaigners say, as fewer flights helped improve air quality and reduce noise pollution.

Isleworth resident Maggie Thorburn, 67, said lockdown had brought some welcome peace and quiet to the area.

She said: “I think what people are noticing is how noisy planes are.”

Elizabeth Balsom, 72, from Putney agreed: “The main impact is the noise.

“When planes are going over you literally cannot hear what someone is saying on the pavement next to you.”

However, the focus of future campaigning will be on climate change, which campaigners believe gives the best chance of delaying or ending construction plans.

Green peer Jenny Jones has been leading attempts to introduce more stringent limits on air quality through the Environment Bill, which is currently making its way through the Lords.

She said: “Heathrow fails on noise and fails on climate change, but air pollution has always been the biggest legal stumbling block.

“Once the UK adopts the World Health Organisation guidance then we would get proper monitoring of fine particulates around Heathrow and there is every likelihood that it would fail to hit this minimum requirement for human health.”

Those in favour of the runway accept that the project will have to comply with net-zero targets but insist that the aviation industry has already made significant progress.

A spokesperson for Back Heathrow, a pro-expansion group?, said: “The whole aviation sector is committed to achieving these net-zero goals because everyone realises that we have to tackle carbon emissions.

“Any expansion of Heathrow cannot happen unless these targets are met.”

The project will require the destruction of homes, the re-routing of rivers, and will lead to an increase in the number of daily flights.

Those in favour of the runway argue it will bring additional jobs to the area and will be vital in boosting the wider economy.

The government is due to set out its strategy for net-zero aviation, Jet zero, around the end of the year. Public consultation on the policy closed last week.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The issue of whether the ANPS will be reconsidered after the Jet Zero Strategy has been finalised and we have more certainty about the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on aviation.”

Heathrow Airport was approached for comment.

Featured Image: No 3rd Runway Coalition

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