Air Quality Letter to Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Air quality is now one of the most important environmental and public health challenges facing us all. The World Health Organisation called the issue a “global public health emergency” in January this year. Last month’s Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Report said the same about the problem in the UK. The Royal College of Physicians found in their February 2016 report that each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

Public concern about the issue has never been higher.

The Government published its new Air Quality Plan for NO2 at the end of last year to help address the issue. As you acknowledged in Parliament on January 13 (Hansard, 13 Jan 2016: Column 854) the issue is also inextricably linked to the decision on airport expansion. You told the Commons:

“There are problems of air quality and pollution not just in London but elsewhere in our country. That is one reason we decided to delay the decision about airport capacity expansion—because we need to answer the question about air quality before we do so. That is what the Environmental Audit Committee recommended to the Government… On air quality, the Government will need to re-examine the Commission’s findings in the light of its finalised air quality strategy.”

We welcome this given the inadequate analysis and consultation afforded to air quality by the Airports Commission and are pleased that the Government does not share Sir Howard’s view that ‘limited weight’ should be given to the issue.

As you will also be aware, last month the Department of Transport published the findings from its own car emission testing which looked at the difference between real world and laboratory tests of Nitrogen Dioxide levels following the recent VW scandal. It found that not a single car tested against the most recent emissions standards met the EU limits in real world testing and that the average emissions were more than five times higher than previously thought.

It is clear that the Government’s Air Quality Plan will need to be revisited all over again, not least as the Plan is subject to Judicial Review, especially before any decision on airport expansion. The current plan cannot be considered reliable in its own right or as a legal basis for any new runway.

We oppose any expansion of flights at Heathrow and believe it would be an environmental disaster. Air quality around the airport regularly breaches legal limits. Despite Heathrow’s claim that expansion will lead to no new car journeys to the airport their own stated intention to expand the M25 to 16 lanes and spend £800m of new funding on car parks seem bound to unacceptably increase vehicle journeys and add to air pollution.

As you know, Heathrow expansion has failed before on air quality grounds. Given that now, in 2016, the problem looks as intractable as ever, we do not believe it is possible to reconcile Heathrow expansion with the air quality standards we must meet.

We therefore ask you to confirm that a the Government will re-do the UK’s Air Quality Plan before making a decision on airport expansion in the South East and rule out any expansion at Heathrow Airport once and for all.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,


John Sauven, UK Executive Director, Greenpeace

Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth England (Wales and Northern Ireland)

Professor Frank Kelly, King’s College London

Tim Johnson, Director, Aviation Environment Federation

Stephen Joseph, CEO Campaign for Better Transport

Jonathan Steel, CEO Change London

Alistair Wardrope, Coordinator of Healthy Planet UK

Eleanor Dow, Deputy Coordinator of Healthy Planet UK

Andrew Wood, Clean Air UK

Simon Birkett, Clean Air London

Shazia Ali-Webber, I Like Clean Air

John Stewart, Chair HACAN