2nd May 2003

Transport Minister Poorly Briefed on Stansted Air Quality Status

A letter responding to the concerns of an Uttlesford mother sent by Transport Minister of State John Spellar MP to local MP Sir Alan Haselhurst has set alarm bells ringing amongst local air quality and health experts ­ as well as local parents concerned for the well-being of their children.

The contents demonstrate that despite being Alistair Darling’s right hand man on the airport expansion consultation, John Spellar and his Department for Transport advisors (who would have drafted the letter) appear to be unaware of some important facts about present air quality in the Uttlesford and Stansted Airport area where they are proposing to add up to three further runways.

Manuden resident Nichola Marshall had written to Sir Alan back in March asking him to take up her concerns over local air quality with the Secretary of State and his colleagues. She was concerned about the health of her three daughters in connection with airport operation and, longer term, proposals to make Stansted bigger than Heathrow within the next ten years. Sir Alan in turn received a rather baffling reply from the Minister referring dismissively to Nichola’s worries, stating that “Stansted and its environs are not designated as an AQMA [Air Quality Management Area] which indicates that pollution levels do not breach limits.”

However, air quality predictions in connection with the planned increase in capacity at the airport to accommodate an additional 10m passengers per year, taking the total to 25m over the next few years, mean that there are concerns over air pollution at the airport. These were predicted by BAA in its own environmental impact assessment.

The findings of air quality predictions carried out for BAA in connection with its application for increasing capacity on the current runway showed clearly that there could be nitrogen dioxide beyond permitted levels in the vicinity of the airport as aircraft flights increased in number. One of the conditions of the granting of the permission was that BAA would itself undertake year round monitoring within the airport. Uttlesford Council will continue to monitor air quality around the airport.

The Minister also appears unaware of the EU Directive relating to plant life which requires lower levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) including nitrogen dioxide. Hatfield Forest is already under threat, a factor which has contributed to the National Trust’s opposition to expansion at Stansted Airport.

In order to determine and monitor the situation precisely, Uttlesford District Council is currently engaged in the second round of review and assessment of important pollutants covered by the Air Quality Regulations 2000 ­ the ‘USA’ update screening and assessment, also referred to in John Spellar’s letter ­ and consultants are acting for all the local councils in Essex.

When the USA is complete, Uttlesford’s Environmental Health Department will be assessing the current results from the continuous monitoring of pollutants in the district. This data will be examined in the context of other data and in the light of the permission recently granted to BAA for an expansion of the airport to accommodate 25m passengers annually at the airport. It will enable officials to determine whether the present situation is satisfactory around the airport.

Former Occupational Health Consultant Pat Dale, who coordinates Saffron Walden & District Friends of the Earth and leads Stop Stansted Expansion’s air quality team commented: “It is clear that the Minister has not been properly briefed about the situation in Stansted. This is very worrying given the damage which the addition of even one extra runway would cause.

Predictions for the airport expansion options considered for Stansted show that nitrogen dioxide levels laid down in the EU Directive and in the UK regulations would be exceeded. These were dismissed in the consultation document as of little consequence, probably because many fewer people would be affected than at Heathrow.”

“However,” she continued, “everyone is entitled to the protection of the law and the suggestion by a Ministry official that offers of compulsory purchase of affected property would solve the problem of law breaking is not an answer, and would also set a dangerous precedent.”

Nichola Marshall, meanwhile, was horrified by the Minister’s response: “From what John Spellar says and the feedback from others at the Department of Health and Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, it seems the government has washed its hands already of the consequences of expansion on the health and well-being of our children, vulnerable adults and the environment. If this consultation is to have any effect, it is essential that we continue to make our views known as widely as possible to get our message through.”


Note to Editors:

The extract of the letter from John Spellar MP referred to in the text above is taken from a fuller paragraph which reads as follows (full letter available on request):

“Local authorities have an important role to play in delivering cleaner air. Under the system of local air quality management (LAQM) local authorities have a duty to review and assess the current, and likely future, air quality in their areas against the national objectives set out in the Strategy (air quality strategy) and prescribed in the Air Quality Regulations 2000. Where a local authority considers that one or more of the air quality objectives is unlikely to be met by the required compliance date, it must declare an air quality management area (AQMA) covering the area where the problem is expected. It must then draw up an action plan setting out the measures it intends to take in pursuit of the air quality objectives in the area. Stansted and its environs are not designated as an AQMA which indicates that pollution levels do not breach limit values.”

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