A senior aide warned David Cameron last autumn that the Government did not have an answer on the issue of air quality if it backed plans for a new runway at Heathrow, according to a document obtained by the Guardian.
In a memo written last September, as former prime minister Mr Cameron’s Government was drawing up its national air quality plan, Downing Street adviser Camilla Cavendish criticised a draft plan produced by then environment secretary Liz Truss, which she said ‘both overclaims and underwhelms’.
David Cameron was prime minister from 2010 to June 2016
According to the Guardian, Ms Cavendish, who is now Conservative peer Baroness Cavendish, also said the draft plan ‘does not even begin to tackle the fundamental question of how we might help people to shift away from diesel cars’ and ‘leaves us exposed on Heathrow where we don’t yet have an answer on air quality’.
At the time of the memo, the Government had said it would make a decision by December 2015 on the Airport Commission’s recommendation of a new runway at Heathrow but it subsequently postponed that decision.
Baroness Cavendish told the paper on Wednesday (19 October): ‘I continue to believe that government policy underwhelms and overclaims, including on Heathrow where expansion will increase pollution.’
Separately, London mayor Sadiq Khan has criticised the Government after it emerged that although ministers will announce their preferred site for a new runway next week, a final decision on airport expansion will not be made until winter 2017/18.
Mr Khan said: ‘The Government’s decision to yet again delay deciding where to build a new runway will cause unnecessary uncertainty for British businesses already struggling with Brexit.
‘Now more than ever, businesses need certainty and stability in order to make investment decisions and to keep jobs in Britain. Instead they are getting dither and delay.
‘Now it's time to get on with building a new runway at Gatwick, which can be built quicker, cheaper, and without the years of legal and political battles that Heathrow clearly faces.’
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth are currently challenging the adequacy of the eventual air quality plan, published last December, in the High Court and have claimed that former chancellor George Osborne watered it down.