Newspaper report accuses the UK government and BAA of "bending facts" over Heathrow expansion
Mon 10 Mar 2008 - The UK’s Sunday Times has published a “special investigation” accusing BAA, the operator of London’s Heathrow Airport, and the Department for Transport (DfT) of conspiring before the public consultation on the large-scale expansion of the airport to manipulate environmental data that initially suggested noise and pollution targets would be breached.
These findings had been passed on by the DfT to BAA who then worked together on the consultation document published last November to change traffic and environmental impact forecasts until “they got the right results”.
One of the solutions to their problem was to “re-forecast” the age of the predicted airline fleets serving Heathrow in 2030 so that there would be newer, and therefore less noisy, aircraft. “It was still not enough,” claims the newspaper, “so BAA curbed the number of flights used for researching the noise footprint until the environmental target was met.”
To meet European Union laws on air quality, which earlier studies indicated would be breached by the additional runway, it was decided to exclude international flight arrivals from the calculations, say the article’s reporters.
It appears the “collusion” has to come to light after local MPs and councils obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act and who have now called for an investigation. Opponents of the expansion have pointed to the close relationship between BAA and pro-expansion groups with the governing Labour Party. A number of senior public affairs executives have moved regularly to and from positions in both BAA and top government departments.
However, a DfT spokesperson told GreenAir that the accusations are “nonsense” and that it was “perfectly normal” for the two parties to work together on compiling the consultation documents. She said the initial data had been found to be “incomplete” and “remodelling” had been necessary. She emphasized that every effort had been made to involve as many people and organizations as possible in the consultation.
The Government’s own environment advisor, the Environment Agency, in its consultation response has questioned the documents supporting the DfT’s arguments and findings on the levels of pollutants arising from the increase in both road and air traffic caused by the expansion. It concludes that “the case for being able to meet air quality limits is not made in this consultation.”
There has been a well-organized and concerted campaign against the Heathrow expansion and the DfT is fending off opposition to the proposals from many sides. A decision is expected in the summer but, says the Sunday Times, the Government’s Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, will now be under pressure to commission an independent scientific report on the impact of a third runway before a go-ahead can be given.
In a separate article, the Sunday Times reports the chairman of the new Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Lord Adair Turner, as saying: “Aviation is tricky. It is one major human activity where there is no substitute for fossil fuels. One vision is that by 2050 the only thing we use carbon-based fuels for is aviation. It could even be that it will expand.”
The CCC’s remit is to provide independent, expert advice on how the UK can best meet its climate change goals. It will have the task of advising the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on the optimum level of carbon budgets consistent with achieving 2020 and 2050 targets and fulfilling the UK’s international obligations.