Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth has raised the issue of Heathrow in the House of Commons, during oral questioning of his opposite number Hilary Benn:
"Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I, too, welcome the two new Ministers to the DEFRA brief, which they will no doubt find challenging, just as all their predecessors did.
“New modelling suggests that EU limits for Nitrogen Oxide in 2010 will be exceeded around Heathrow, necessitating capacity constraint”.
“worked with DEFRA to ensure negotiations over”
“directive take account of Heathrow’s position”.
How does the Secretary of State square that with what he told the House in May—that his attempt to delay the implementation of new EU rules on nitrogen oxide had nothing to do with decisions about airport capacity?
Hilary Benn: The simple reason why we are likely to have to apply for derogation under the new directive that gives member states the ability to apply for additional time is the existing problem that we have with PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, which, by definition is nothing to do with any decision that may yet be taken about the expansion of Heathrow. That is a problem we have now. Therefore, the answer that I gave in May was completely accurate.
Mr. Ainsworth: But surely expanding Heathrow can only make the situation worse. The Environment Agency has warned that pollution from a third runway at Heathrow could “increase morbidity and mortality”—in other words, it will mean that more people will die earlier. Does the Secretary of State agree with its analysis, and why does he not spend more time protecting the environment and less time conniving with the Department for Transport on a massive increase in pollution around London? Is it because he lacks the will, or because he lacks the influence?
Hilary Benn: I think that that is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. First, the fact that different Departments talk to each other should not come as a great surprise to him. Secondly, as I said, the Government have made it clear that any decision about the expansion of Heathrow will have to be subject to the environmental conditions set down. That is a requirement of the directive. When we apply, the Commission has to decide whether to give us more time, and those extensions can only be until 2011 for PM10 and until 2015 for nitrogen dioxide. At that point, the UK, along with other member states, will have to meet the requirements."
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Declaration of interest: Tom Greeves, who wrote this post, used to work for Peter Ainsworth as Conservative Central Office’s Desk Officer for Culture, Media and Sport and later in Mr Ainsworth’s private office.