New report sets out actions to tackle air and noise pollution around a growing Heathrow

14 MARCH 2012

With passenger numbers at Heathrow potentially growing by a third to 95 million a year, road traffic around the airport could increase dramatically - worsening already poor air quality unless urgent steps are taken to improve public transport links, a new report says today.

Plane Speaking by the Assembly’s Environment Committee builds on the Committee’s previous work[2] on environmental conditions around the UK’s busiest – and fastest growing – airport.

The report raises particular concerns about the significant contribution to poor air quality around Heathrow made by people using private cars and taxis to get to and from the airport: almost two-thirds[3] of the 69 million passengers using Heathrow every year travel by car.

Emissions from road traffic have contributed to the area around Heathrow achieving the dubious honour of being the second worst area in the capital for poor air quality[4], which can cause serious ill-health and premature death. 

The situation could worsen as the number of passengers has the potential to rise to 95 million with the introduction of bigger planes and once redevelopment and construction projects at Heathrow are complete[5], generating even more road traffic.

Committee Members believe improving public transport links – alongside the introduction of more greener, quieter planes and ensuring the airport’s on-site vehicles meet the latest EU emissions standards – is essential to tackling the poor air quality around Heathrow.  

Murad Qureshi AM, Chair of the Environment Committee, said:

“Poor air quality causes the early deaths of at least 4,000 Londoners a year, and it’s time more action is focused on Heathrow as a big player in this serious public health issue.

“Heathrow airport is of vital importance to London.  And this is not just about planes.  One of the biggest challenges to reducing emissions around the airport is the volume of road traffic.

“Improvements to public transport are absolutely essential to getting more of Heathrow’s passengers and employees out of their cars.

“We need an integrated solution to surface access to and from Heathrow if we are to start to see air quality in the area improve.  This means all the organisations involved - Heathrow Airport Limited, government, Transport for London, and rail operators – need to make improving transport links a priority.”

The report sets out a number of actions for improving air quality, including:

  • Introducing incentives to encourage people to use buses and coaches
  • Expediting the upgrade of the Piccadilly line and extending its current operating hours by one hour at either end of the day
  • Consideration of more robust measures to reduce the level of drop-off and pick-up traffic
  • Ensuring Crossrail offers the service levels to take on the growing numbers of passengers coming into central London
  • Making sure Heathrow is linked to the new planned high speed rail network which will help to minimise long car journeys to the airport
  • Using incentives to encourage airline operators to remove the most polluting aircraft from their fleets more quickly and switch to more greener, quieter planes
  • Ensuring Heathrow’s on-site vehicle fleet meets the latest EU emissions standards

The Committee also looked at managing noise pollution around Heathrow, which now affects people living up to 20km[6] away.  The report recommends that the Government adopts the more stringent European standard[7] for determining who is affected by noise, which will mean an additional 472,500 people will fall within the noise contour. 

The trigger point at which residents qualify for assistance with noise insulation should also be lowered to make more Londoners eligible for help – and qualifying thresholds need to be more consistent, for example between City Airport and Heathrow[8]

The Committee believes there is scope to develop a tighter and more consistent approach to dealing with the impacts of aircraft noise – and that local communities would welcome this.

Notes for Editors:

  1. Completion is expected some time in 2014.
  2. This report follows on from the Committee’s previous publication, Flights of Fancy: can an expanded Heathrow meet its environmental targets? (January 2010)
  3. 61 per cent of passengers use private cars and taxis, 25 per cent use Tube or rail, and 13 per cent use buses or coaches.
  4. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particles (PM10) are the main air pollutants of concern because of their potential harmful effects on health and the environment.
  5. Once the redevelopment and construction of the five terminals is complete Heathrow will be able to cope with 90-95 million passengers a year..
  6. Residents in SE London and east London, including: Clapham, Vauxhall, Stockwell, Camberwell, Kennington Park and Blackheath are affected by aircraft noise.
  7. 55 dB Lden.  UK daytime aircraft noise is currently measured using the LAeq method, where plane noise is recorded in decibels (dB) and averaged over 16 hours to arrive at a single daily figure, which is averaged out over the year.  The UK Government suggests that communities become significantly annoyed by aircraft noise above 57dB LAeq.  The European Directive uses the dB Lden method, which uses the combined effect of noise levels during the day, evening and night and averages them over a 24-hour period.  It also weights the evening and night noise levels by adding 5dB and 10dB respectively to reflect the greater nuisance of noise at those times.
  8. The noise mitigation scheme at London City Airport is currently based on the 57dB LAeq) contour, while at Heathrow it is 69dB LAeq. Heathrow’s proposed changes will narrow the gap between the respective thresholds, but in the Committee’s view, HAL should go further and seek to ensure that its noise insulation scheme provides a comparable level of mitigation. At Heathrow the 57dB LAeq contour would equate to the 59dBLden contour at any given point around the airport.
  9. The report will be formally agreed under delegated authority.
  10. 10.  Murad Qureshi AM, Chair of the Environment Committee is available for interview.  See contact details below.
  11. 11.  As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.

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