London Evening Standard FoI docs join political dots re Heathrow expansionOctober 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Environment, Heathrow | Leave a comment
Tags: Environment, Freedom of Information Act, Heathrow airport, Pollution
(Yes, I tinted them blue. The p1 and p2 images link respectively to 1.2 MB and 912 KB jpegs, or you can view the original PDF also linked in the story below.)
Pollution law delay for Heathrow expansion
Paul Waugh and Chris Ames
MINISTERS are planning to water down EU pollution curbs in order to allow Heathrow airport to expand, Whitehall documents obtained by the Standard have revealed.
Official papers show that civil servants are working to delay for five years a Brussels air quality directive due to come into force in 2010 specifically to avoid harming the airport’s growth.
The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal for the first time that the EU rules on levels of nitrogen dioxide would pose a “risk” to plans to increase flights at Britain’s biggest airport.
They also directly contradict claims by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn earlier this year that the Government’s stance on the directive was in no way linked to decisions on Heathrow.
Mr Benn was today accused of misleading Parliament over the issue and faced demands to apologise in the Commons.
Green groups have long suspected ministers are working behind the scenes to delay the tough new pollution curbs to protect the air industry. But until now there has been little concrete proof of a link to Heathrow.
The Department for Transport documents show that officials from DfT and Mr Benn’s Defra department worked together on the plans to help the airport. Transport officials “worked with Defra to ensure negotiations over [the] Directive take account of Heathrow position”, one memo reveals.
The papers show that the DfT also predicted that pollution around Heathrow will breach limits in the European Union air quality directive when it becomes law in 2010, “necessitating capacity constraints” and posing a risk to the airport’s expansion.
The DfT is expected to announce this year that it will allow “mixed mode” operation allowing both planes to take off and land on both runways at the same time at Heathrow from around 2012. This would provide capacity for more flights before the opening of a third runway from 2020.
Mr Benn was challenged by Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker in May about suspicions of a link between Heathrow and moves to delay the EU rules.
Today Mr Baker said: “My suspicions were always that Defra was conniving to weaken air pollution standards at Heathrow, but Hilary Benn denied it. Now we have confirmation that it was indeed what Defra was doing.”
The new documents are internal DfT risk assessments obtained by Greenpeace under FOI laws. The most recent assessment is dated September 2007. It records predictions that permitted levels of nitrogen dioxide would be breached in 2010.
Greenpeace transport campaigner Anna Jones said: “The fact is that a third runway will lead to unacceptable levels of air and climate change pollution, and all the evidence suggests that the EU agrees. The case for airport expansion is collapsing, fast.”
Thanks to a friend for bringing this story to my attention.