EU Urged To Act On Heathrow Pollution

Daily fines a possibility after Heathrow airport breaches European limits

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The UK Government could face daily fines after allowing air pollution at Heathrow airport to breach European limits.

Despite previously admitting that nitrogen dioxide levels around the airport were above permitted levels, ministers have so far taken no action to improve air quality in the area.

Since 1 January 2010, all EU Member States have been required to comply with the limits set down in the 2008 Air Quality Directive.

Now local residents have made a formal complaint to Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

The Directive required national governments to ‘do their utmost to comply with EU standards in the shortest possible time’ and set a deadline of 1 January 2010.

The complaint was submitted by Geraldine Nicholson, who also chairs the No Third Runway Action Group (Not RAG).

She says that the UK Government has failed over ten years to put in place the measures necessary to comply with EU law and protect human health:

“Not only have ministers done nothing to reduce pollution they now want to build a third runway that can only make it worse. This shows a complete disregard for the law and the wellbeing of local people.

“We are calling on the Commissioner to take immediate action to enforce EU law and protect the health of people who live around the airport”

Hounslow Council’s lead member on Aviation issues, Cllr Barbara Reid, speaking on behalf of the 2M Group of local authorities opposed to Heathrow expansion, added:

“Ministers have got themselves into a right muddle. They know they are breaking EU law and damaging the health of UK citizens, yet they are still hell-bent on building a third runway.

“If they can’t come up with an answer on how they can meet the EU limits without a third runway, what hope is there when they’ve added an extra 125,000 flights?”

Ministers said last year that a new runway would push up the airport’s capacity from 480,000 movements a year to 605,000 by 2030.

In its 2007 air quality strategy, the UK Government conceded that annual average EU limits for nitrogen dioxide were being exceeded ‘in a number of places, mainly to the north and north east close to the airfield and around major roads including the M4.’

The Government is going ahead with its expansion plans for the airport despite admitting that the 2010 limits would be breached even without new development.

While the EU Directive allows governments to seek an extension of the deadline, this should have been done before 1 January 2010 - which the UK Government has not done. Any application must also be supported by an air quality action plan. This should also include details of the efforts made to achieve compliance in advance of the deadline.

The annual average nitrogen dioxide limit is 40 microgram’s per cubic metre.

The 2M Group and NOTRAG are part of a broad coalition of local authorities and environmental groups seeking to have the Government’s third runway decision declared unlawful. An application for judicial review will begin in the High Court on February 23. The action is also backed Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Campaign for Protection of Rural England, aircraft noise campaigners HACAN and Transport for London.

2M is an alliance of local authorities concerned about the environmental impact of Heathrow expansion on their communities. The group, which took its name from the 2 million residents of the original 12 authorities, now has 24 members representing a combined population of 5 million people.

For more information about the campaign group, visit

February 8, 2010