Sian Berry statement

Statement in support of Plane Stupid campaigners

My name is Sian Berry. I have been an environmental campaigner for 12 years, working mainly in the area of climate and transport, and most recently worked as a road campaigner for Campaign for Better Transport where air pollution was a strong focus of my work, and where I was our representative on the Healthy Air Campaign coalition run by environmental lawyers Client Earth. 

I am currently the Green Party candidate for Mayor of London, and every one of my counterparts from the main parties are united with me in opposing a new runway at Heathrow because of the effects it will have on Londoners due to noise and air pollution. I also oppose a new runway at Gatwick on the grounds of its climate change impact. 

I strongly believe the campaigners acted out of necessity – the fact that the Government continues to consider a new runway at Heathrow is one of the most important problems we face in solving two major crises: climate change and air pollution. 

The proposals have been dropped before, there is a wealth of evidence of the harm they will cause and there have been many years of campaigning, by many residents around Heathrow, environmental campaigners and politicians from all parties, including local MPs (who include the current Mayor of London) local councillors, and politicians across London and the South East. 

Clear promises were made before the 2010 election by the current Prime Minister, upon which many people concerned about climate change and pollution may have based their votes, so the fact that a new runway is still being considered – and indeed was recommended by the Davies commission that was established after the last election, represents a severe deficit of democracy.  

Climate change

On climate change, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an acknowledged imperative by the Government, and a large reduction in emissions is part of a number of government targets and policies. 

However, the government’s aviation policy, including consider expanding Heathrow – a decision against which could have been made last November but has been postponed – is set to increase emissions and so runs counter to these aims and risks making it impossible to avoid breaching targets and limits set by the Government itself by reducing emissions only in other sectors.

Climate change occupies a high priority in UK policy because of the widely acknowledged human and economic costs of not preventing its effects on the earth’s ecosystems and on human health and well-being – many of which are already being felt, especially in developing countries.

The serious harm to human life that will be caused by continued climate change has been analysed and documented by many national and international bodies, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Air pollution

At Heathrow, air pollution is also a significant concern. Increasing the number of flights with a new runway will not only increase pollution emitted by airplanes themselves, but also increase the need for surface transport for passengers and workers and result in morepollution due to cars and lorries. Diesel cars, vans, taxis and heavier vehicles including buses and HGVs are responsible for a high proportion of London’s nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Two large motorways (the M25 and M4) run past the airport, and these and other nearby roads would see a large increase in traffic due to the expansion of the airport if it goes ahead. The areas around these roads are already in breach of EU air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution which the UK should have complied with by 2010. 

In retaining Heathrow expansion as a potential option, the Government’s interpretation of the law in relation to the risk of a new runway causing a further or continued breach of the relevant EU Directive is incorrect. 

Reporting to the EU is based on particular monitoring sites, which usually represent the worst breach of the legal limits in a reporting zone. For London this reference site is at Marylebone Road. The argument given is that increasing pollution at Heathrow therefore does not risk a further breach because it will only have a small impact on pollution at the Marylebone Road site. 

But this is clearly not the case – were efforts from the Mayor of London to result in Marylebone Road and other central London areas falling below the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide, the area around Heathrow would then become the relevant point for reporting to the EU and London and the UK would still be in breach of the Directive. 

The same erroneous argument has also been used by Highways England in relation to road schemes, including the M4, which it would like to expand in the area around Heathrow. While at Campaign for Better Transport I challenged this interpretation at the recent examination on the M4, and a government decision on planning permission will be made later this year.  

Our submissions to the M4 examination included the clarification advice given in 2013 by the European Commission to Mr Simon Birkett of the Clean Air in London campaign that “limit values must indeed be complied with throughout the territory of any given air quality zone." It is not acceptable to allow pollution to remain above legal limits in a particular area for longer, just because for the time being there is somewhere else worse off within the same zone.

Knowledge of the deadly effects of air pollution is growing, including its effects on individual lives (researchers at Kings College are finding alarming results from their study of lung development in young children in areas of Newham and Tower Hamlets with high levels of air pollution) and across the population. 

Immediate harm and the reduction that would come from reducing aviation around Heathrow

Climate change is a long term problem – and a risk to life in many countries already. Recent severe weather in the UK has shown that there are also severe risks to life here too. Not expanding Heathrow, and stemming the growth in demand for aviation would have a very beneficial effect on the UK’s ability to contribute to the global reductions needed in carbon emissions. 

Air pollution is already exerting a severe toll on life in the UK, and especially in the immediate area around Heathrow in London.

In July 2015 the first estimate of the number of early deaths in London’s population due to excess levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution was made by Kings College and published as part of the Mayor of London’s Air Quality Strategy. This estimated the total mortality burden of long-term exposure to NO2 at up to 88,113 life-years lost per year in London, equivalent to 5,879 additional deaths annually.

Adding to this burden with a new runway, and associated ground transport would be highly damaging. In contrast, reducing aviation levels would help to reduce this mortality too.