Air pollution impacts of airport expansion unlawful and damaging to health – press release (Embargo Lifted)

The devastating effects of air pollution caused by airport expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick are highlighted in the Green Party response to the Airports Commission consultation on its Air Quality Assessment (closing date May 29).

Airport expansion at Gatwick would cause:

  • A huge increase in aircraft movements with a tenfold increase in freight (not fully assessed by the Commission) 
  • 100,000 extra vehicles on the roads per day around Gatwick when it’s running at full capacity (which the consultation does not take fully into account)[i]
  • Air quality worsened at 21,000 properties (in terms of annual NO2 mean concentrations) according to the Commission

Surrey already has the worst incidence of deaths caused by air pollution in the South East[ii].  Clean Air London says the increases in air pollution around Gatwick would be in breach of the UK’s Sustainable Development duties under European law[iii].

At Heathrow, airport expansion would cause:

  • Further breaches in compliance with EU limits on NO2 emissions (despite the UK already being the subject of legal processes to address this). Worsening air quality further would be illegal[iv]
  • Poorer air quality at up to 47,000 properties (depending on which scheme is chosen)

The UK already has the highest proportion of zones exceeding safe NO2 limits in Europe.

Green Party MEP for the South East, Keith Taylor, said:

“Sir Howard Davies could hold 100 consultations if he wanted but the reality is that building any major new runways would be seriously bad news for air quality, rule out any chance of meeting our climate change targets, and would result in an unprecedented increase in noise levels.

My preference in this polarised `Heathrow or Gatwick` debate is for neither to be allowed. Expansion of either makes their environmental impact worse. We can, and should avoid them both”.

Jacquetta Fewster of Mole Valley Green Party said:

 “We need a Strategic Environmental Assessment of these proposals. It’s not a localised issue and the impacts will be widely felt and need to be assessed more broadly”.

Jonathan Essex of South East Green Party said:

“The biggest impact here is climate change, and international flights are not currently included in UK carbon targets. If we properly account for climate change we won’t expand our airports. There should be a further consultation on climate change too”.

The Green Party – alongside other groups including Clean Air London and the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign – is telling the Commission that its assessments totally underestimate future impacts as they are for 2030 when the expanded airports would only be at half capacity. But even the increases in pollution it has identified would be illegal and damaging to human health.

Notes to editors:

Jonathan Essex is available for further comments: 07801541924 or Jacquetta Fewster: 07801233582

The Green Party response can be found here

Clear Air London response here

Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign response here




[i] GACC estimate

[ii] According to Public Health England, 5.7% of deaths in Surrey are linked to air pollution,

[iii] CAL consultation response


[iv] CAL response


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