Mayor raises lack of answers to fundamental questions on Heathrow

31 March 2017
  • Sadiq warns of unacceptable consequences for London in evidence to Transport Select Committee
  • Third runway would hamper efforts to improve capital’s air quality
  • 200,000 more people would be exposed to noise while scheduled night flights could increase by at least a third
  • No credible plan to maintain traffic levels and no commitment for infrastructure to support 250pc increase in public transport trips

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today (Friday, March 31) accused the government of failing to provide any answers on how Heathrow can be expanded without severe noise, air quality and road and rail impacts on London.

In written evidence to the Transport Select Committee, Sadiq said the government’s draft National Policy Statement (NPS) appears “to hope for the best” with unacceptable consequences for the capital. He said he was deeply concerned at the lack of answers to fundamental questions.

He also voiced strong worries that ministers’ plans were based on the third runway not being fully utilised – playing down the real impact. The government had ‘completely failed’, he added.

Sadiq insisted it was his duty to Londoners to oppose a third runway and push for urgently needed additional aviation capacity that can meet the environmental and economic needs of London and the UK.

In the evidence the Mayor highlighted a series of concerns including:

  • Noise - A new runway will expose 200,000 more Londoners to noise. The NPS offers no assurances to those affected – instead it merely moves the noise around exposing hundreds of thousands of Londoners for the first time. Analysis by Transport for London (TfL) also shows that the scheduled night flights 'ban' could actually lead to an increase in night flights by at least 33 per cent (see notes to editors).
  • Air quality – Heathrow is already one of the worst locations for air quality in the UK. It exceeds legal limits for air pollution by some margin, and it is yet to be demonstrated how a third runway can be delivered without worsening air quality. The NPS even acknowledges that if the third runway opens around 2025 there is a very real risk it would lead to breaches of the legal air quality limits with few mitigation options available to the airport to address this. Instead, the government is seeking to use the air quality improvements the Mayor is delivering to enable Heathrow expansion rather than reducing the already toxic air quality across London.
  • Climate change - The NPS appears to ignore the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change which advises that all UK aviation targets should be met without resorting to using ‘carbon credits’ that seek to take advantage of improvements in other sectors. This could have an impact on other industries and restrict growth at other UK airports.
  • Road and rail access – There is no credible plan for how the government will ensure that there isn’t an increase in road journeys to and from the airport. Ministers hope that public transport trips to and from Heathrow would increase by around 250 per cent, yet there is currently no commitment to any additional rail infrastructure. Instead they rely on existing schemes, such as the Piccadilly line upgrade and the Elizabeth line, to handle any increase – both of which were designed to accommodate London's continuing population growth rather than help deal with the impact of a third runway. The NPS  largely neglects the road trips associated with freight and induced economic activity around an expanded airport.
  • Economic impact – Domestic connecting flights are a key part of the pitch, yet the Government has no ability to decide routes. Heathrow will be at 80-90 per cent capacity shortly after opening and would most likely offer just four domestic routes, disappointing those pinning their hopes for better UK connectivity.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The government has completely failed to demonstrate how Heathrow can be expanded without a severe noise, air quality and transport impact on London. The government’s position appears to be to simply hope for the best, with unproven plans that look to take advantage of unrelated improvements being made to air quality and public transport. It’s simply not good enough for one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, and it leaves me even more concerned about the prospect of Heathrow expansion on London and the UK.”

TfL is currently carrying out further assessments to the impact on London of this proposed expansion. A more detailed submission to the Government consultation on the NPS will follow in May.

Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council, said: “The Government’s plans for Heathrow will never pass a simple legal test on air quality. The airport already churns out unlawful levels of air pollution, offers woefully inadequate public transport connectivity and has Europe’s worst noise footprint - and that’s with just two runways. Expansion will make all these issues worse. It’s wrong on every level, legally undeliverable and will end in failure after years of wasted effort. Nothing is going to change between now and 2018 to make this scheme any less polluting so ministers should face up to this truth now and abandon their plans for a third runway.”

Lord True, Leader of Richmond Council, said: “We wholeheartedly agree with the submission from the Mayor of London. He speaks for London on this and we thank him. An expanded Heathrow will be expensive, polluting, will take longer to build, require more public money, destroy more homes, and be against all the principles of competition in which we should believe. So many giant wrongs don’t make a right. The Government need to stop masquerading spin as consultation and come clean on the real impact of expansion on Londoners.”

Notes to editors

  • Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid airports combined. An expansion of the airport would mean the intolerable prospect of an extra 200,000 Londoners, including 124 schools and 43,200 schoolchildren, being exposed to an unacceptable level of noise every day.


  • The different night flights bans proposed by the Airports Commission (11.30pm-6am) and Heathrow Airport (11pm-5.30am) both fall short of the full eight hours (11pm-7am) deemed by Government to be the official night period. Operating a three-runway airport at full capacity before 7amwould therefore mean at least a 33 per cent increase in the total number of night flights, having a huge impact on the health and living conditions of residents and businesses along flight paths.


  • While the NPS notes the value of potential western and southern rail links to support Heathrow expansion, it gives no certainty to either and takes the view that these are desirable but not essential. A clear commitment is required for both and in the case of a southern rail link, any scheme taken forward must not seek to rely on lines which are already heavily crowded.


  • In November 2016, the Mayor directed Transport for London to provide advice and assistance to affected borough councils, including Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead Councils in relation to their challenge against a third runway at Heathrow 

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