29th February 2008

SSE condemns false pollution data provided by BAA

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has written to the Government Minister with lead responsibility for determining the outcome of BAA’s planning application for increased throughput on the existing runway condemning BAA for making false claims at last year’s Public Inquiry.

The move follows the airport operator’s eleventh hour admission that the pollution impacts of its plans would be far more serious than it originally claimed. BAA has now been forced to admit that EU pollution limits would be exceeded over an extensive area including Hatfield Forest which is nationally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a National Nature Reserve.

In a letter to Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, SSE points out that if the true position had been provided to Public Inquiry, the debate on the air pollution effects of the proposed development would have assumed a radically different complexion.

The letter also notifies Hazel Blears that SSE is taking legal advice on the implications of the new pollution data and the options available in the event that the Secretary of State fails to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves. In the meantime SSE has written to BAA with an urgent request for full disclosure of all of the supporting data relating to its revised projections.

At the start of the Public Inquiry, the Inspector identified the effects of increased air pollution from aircraft and surface traffic on nearby woodlands as one of the key issues facing the Inquiry. BAA sought to neutralise this issue by providing projections showing that pollution limits would not be exceeded in Hatfield Forest. However, this claim has now turned out to be false.

In the course of the Inquiry, experts giving evidence on behalf of Uttlesford District Council, the National Trust, Friends of the Earth and SSE all questioned the credibility of BAA’s projections for air pollution. BAA dismissed all their evidence insisting that its own projections were ‘robust’, ‘conservative’ and represented a ‘realistic worst case scenario’.

Since then, and in anticipation of its second runway application, BAA has been forced to admit that it systematically under-predicted the levels of nitrogen oxide pollution. Crucially, the revised data show that EU pollution limits for the protection of vegetation would be exceeded not only in Hatfield Forest but also in East End Wood, on the opposite side of the airport, also nationally designated as a SSSI.

“Once again this is a case of BAA understating the damage that would be caused by its expansion proposals,” said SSE Campaign Director Carol Barbone. “To add insult to injury, BAA is now making the preposterous claim that the breach of pollution limits to which it now admits is of no real significance compared to the alleged benefits of its expansion proposal.”

BAA agreed during the Inquiry that the relevant EU pollution limit for the protection of vegetation was appropriately defined and that it was not necessary for other parties to prove that actual damage would ensue if the limit were to be exceeded. However, after it became clear that the relevant limit would be exceeded, BAA has cynically reversed its position. It now argues that the breach is unimportant because no party provided evidence to the Inquiry that harm would ensue.

SSE’s letter to the Secretary of State also contains a reminder that a key issue which emerged at the Public Inquiry was “the level of trust which can be placed in the documents produced by BAA for this Inquiry”. One of the reasons for this, highly relevant to BAA’s understatement of the air pollution impacts, was BAA’s 30 percent understatement of the additional road traffic which would result from its proposal. BAA initially claimed its projections were based on CAA data and the true picture only emerged after very extensive research and probing by SSE.

Carol Barbone concluded: “If BAA cannot get its facts right on an issue as important as local air quality, what confidence can local residents have in any of its figures?”

The Inspector delivered his confidential report on the Inquiry to the Secretary of State in January and the Government had been expected to announce a decision by Easter. A delay now seems inevitable and it is anticipated that BAA may now take the highly controversial step of submitting its planning application for a second runway before the Secretary of State has even decided whether or not to allow further expansion on the existing runway.


  1. Copies of SSE Letters to Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities (also sent to Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport because the decision will be taken by both Secretaries of State) and to CMS Cameron McKenna BAA’s Legal Advisers are available online.
  2. EU Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management (The Framework Air Quality Directive) obliges member states to “take the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the limit values” and EU Directive 99/30/EC (The First Daughter Directive) sets a limit value for oxides of nitrogen of 30 micrograms per cubic metre as an annual mean. This was embodied in UK legislation in the UK Air Quality Limit Values Regulations 2001 where Section 3.1 states:

“The Secretary of State shall take the measures necessary to ensure that throughout England in each zone concentrations of relevant pollutants in ambient air … do not exceed the limit values set out in Schedule 1 from the dates specified in that Schedule” (i.e., for oxides of nitrogen, 30 micrograms per cubic metre as an annual mean with effect from 19 July 2001).

BAA claims that Hatfield Forest is not protected by the legislation because it is within 5km of a motorway. However, the legislation does not exempt such areas from the need for protection but simply states that areas within 5km of a motorway are unsuitable for sampling air quality levels.

  1. Hatfield Forest is of national and international significance as a rare surviving example of a medieval royal hunting forest. It is recorded in the Domesday Book and belonged to King Harold before passing to William the Conqueror. It extends to some 1000 acres and is the largest public open space in North Essex. It has been owned and managed by the National Trust since 1923.
  2. Stansted currently handles 23.6 million passengers per annum and is capped at 25 million by a planning condition. BAA’s expansion proposals for its single runway sought unlimited passenger capacity and an increase in air traffic movements on the existing runway. In addition, BAA is expected to submit its long delayed planning application for a second runway at Stansted in the next few weeks.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits