FAQs

Air quality and transport

Air quality

How can you expand the airport and meet air quality limits?

Heathrow has a good record when it comes to improving air quality – in fact, we have cut emissions by 16% in the last 5 years. Road vehicles are the principal contributors of air pollution: NOX and particulate emissions. This is verified by data gathered by air quality monitors around Heathrow airport, which show annual breaches of EU limits in the two locations beside major road junctions.

The Airports Commission’s analysis concluded that a third runway at Heathrow can be delivered in accordance with EU air quality law. Since then, the Government’s Air Quality Plan, updated modelling undertaken by Heathrow, an independent study by Cambridge University, and the Department for Transport’s own analysis have all shown that baseline air quality levels around the airport will have significantly improved by the time a new runway is built, as the nation’s vehicle fleet gradually becomes cleaner.

Over the last 20 years, Heathrow’s passenger numbers have risen by almost 80% but airport related road traffic has remained broadly static. New public transport infrastructure such as Crossrail, HS2, Western Rail Access, Southern Rail Access and upgrades to the Piccadilly Line will treble Heathrow’s rail capacity by 2040 and enable 30 million more passengers to use public transport. This, along with measures to encourage sustainable transport by employees, makes it possible to deliver an additional runway without increasing airport-related traffic on the road and therefore meet our air quality obligations.

A new runway at the UK’s hub airport represents an opportunity to deliver significant improvements to air quality around Heathrow: the redesign of local roads, support for sustainable transport and the opportunity to introduce an airport emissions charge all have the potential to bring improvements in air quality.

Heathrow’s current approach to reducing emissions through its operations both on and off the airport is outlined in a ten-point Blueprint for action. See it here.

Doesn’t Heathrow already break the law on air quality?

No. Legal compliance with EU air quality limits is measured by the Government at specific locations across the UK. The Government is responsible for ensuring and reporting compliance across the whole of London.

There are two sites near Heathrow on this EU compliance measuring network. All of the other air quality monitoring stations in the vicinity of Heathrow measure local air quality objectives, which are not legally binding. However, the measure for EU legal limits and local objectives are the same: an annual mean of 40 μg m−3 of nitrogen dioxide.

In the immediate vicinity of Heathrow, all monitoring sites met the 40 μg m−3 annual mean in 2015. The two sites in the Heathrow area that did not meet limits in 2015 are both around 2km away from the airport perimeter and north of the M4 motorway. The dominant source of polluting emissions at these locations is road traffic, only a small proportion of which is connected with the airport.

The real air quality problem is caused by road traffic. That’s the case across London, across the UK, and across Europe. We are encouraged by the latest Government air quality action plan which sets out a number of steps to improve air quality. And we are also working in partnership with the Mayor, TfL and local authorities around the airport to develop a “West London Air Quality Plan” to improve the air in west London as quickly as possible.

Roads and Rail

More passengers mean more taxis and vehicles coming to the area, how can you make a commitment that there will be no more airport-related traffic?

 We recognise the existing challenges on the road network in the Heathrow area with high traffic levels and local air quality issues. We have developed a strategy that enables growth at Heathrow without increasing traffic on the surrounding road network. There are three key elements of our plans: transforming rail access; making more efficient use of road transport; and continuing to reduce the number of colleagues driving to work.

By the time Heathrow is expanded, and for the first time, Heathrow will be part of an integrated transport network served by 5 railway lines and 5 motorways to the North, South, East and West. This will ensure we continue the trend that has seen passenger numbers at Heathrow double since 1991, but airport-related road traffic remain largely static. We plan to double passenger journeys by public transport from 18 million (in 2013), to 35 million by 2030.

Will there be road layout changes around the airport as a result of expansion?

 It is likely that some roads will need to be changed and re-routed, for example the A4 and A3044. Changes to road layouts will form part of our public consultations and we will also work very closely with local authorities to align our plans with theirs.

 Will there be any additional parking spaces at an R3 Heathrow?

The total number of parking spaces available at Heathrow is limited by an existing planning condition. Our current masterplan proposals would not increase the number of car parking spaces permitted at the airport and we have made a commitment to reduce the number of parking spaces available for colleagues working at the airport by 50% by 2040.

Will you be implementing an emissions charge? How will this work in practice?

We will consult on any proposals to introduce an emissions charge. It could be implemented as a means to reduce traffic congestion levels and improve air quality for local communities while raising money for public transport improvements.

We currently propose that the charge would help to discourage drop off and pick up and would apply only for those travelling to the airport

Heathrow envisages that there could be exemptions in place for the greenest vehicles, taxis and for local residents, although this would be subject to future consultation. The details of the scheme (including how far it extends) will need be assessed and measured, and a proposal developed according to what outcomes sought.

The money raised from it could be used to fund local public transport improvements, cycling infrastructure, additional electric vehicle charging points and promoting incentives to switch to electric or hybrid cars.

Are you still planning to tunnel the M25?

Our current proposals involve tunnelling the M25, however, we are also exploring alternative ways of building the runway over the M25 that would enable us to deliver the runway quicker. Any changes to the road infrastructure would be subject to public consultation as part of the planning process, so local residents would be able to have their say on any proposed changes.

Won’t tunnelling the M25 cause major disruption and congestion to thousands of people?

In the event that the M25 is tunnelled, the new section of motorway will be built off-line to minimise the disruption to the existing M25. Any changes to the road infrastructure would be subject to public consultation as part of the planning process, so local residents would be able to have their say on any proposed changes.

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