MPs have challenged transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin over the ‘real reasons’ for delaying a decision on the location of a new runway in the south east of England.
Mr McLoughlin yesterday told the Commons Transport Committee that last autumn’s Volkswagen emissions scandal was one factor that caused ministers to delay their decision on the Davies Commission’s recommendation of a new runway at Heathrow.
He told MPs: ‘As a result of what come out of the VW scandal and the admitted use of defeat devices, which gave us readings on cars which we were not expecting to have, that has caused more work to be done as far as engine and exhaust pollution by the department. That work is presently ongoing at the moment.’
He said further environmental analysis is being carried out in relation to Gatwick airport, in case the Government chooses to go against the recommendations of the commission.
Committee chair Louise Ellman told Mr McLoughlin: ‘But when you and your officials came before this committee in October, you told us that the NOx emissions resulting from the Volkswagen scandal did not have a significant impact on the environment generally.’
She pointed out that Sir Howard Davies had said his commission looked at ‘real emissions, not test emissions’ and asked if the scandal was a ‘real reason’ for the delay.
Tory MP Karl McCartney told Mr McLaughlin that the air quality issue in terms of Volkswagen was a ‘storm in a teacup’.
Caroline Low, director of airport capacity at the Department for Transport, told MPs that the scandal ‘has clear impact on the modelling from factory to real world emissions.’
She said the publication of a new air quality plan, which had brought forward compliance with the European Air Quality Directive around Heathrow by five years was also a factor.
This, she said, had caused officials to look again at the commission’s modelling, in relation to both Heathrow and Gatwick, to see whether the Government could still meet legal air quality targets.
Mr McLoughlin refused to say whether a final decision would be taken before the Parliamentary recess in July. But he said: ‘I would like to see a decision by the time the House rises for the summer.’
He added that plans were still on track to deliver a new runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow by 2030.