Greens say council “all talk and no trousers” on Heathrow expansion

Heathrow airport is due to expand, bringing tonnes of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) with it – leading campaigners to say that Kingston Council needs to do more about air quality in the borough.

Air pollution in Kingston is at a dangerous level with areas like Cromwell Road and the Tolworth roundabout having twice the legal safe amount of NO2 in the air.

NO2 can cause premature death, leading Green Party Councillor Sharron Sumner to name it “a silent killer”.

Summer in the town centre, void of pollution. Photo by: Kirsten Lee

In an interview, Sumner expressed her disdain for the council not implementing enough measures to counteract air pollution caused by the expansion, calling their efforts “all talk and no trousers”.

“Air pollution is in a chronic situation, not only will we get a high percentage of flights overhead but it will add more Nitrogen Dioxide into the atmosphere which can cause serious respiratory problems. A third runway will add to global warming and climate change. I can’t see where the good is in that,” she said.

Even if carbon emissions were offset by planting more trees, which the council has started already, it would not completely dissipate NO2.

Not only would the new flight paths over Kingston lead to more air pollution, but they would also bring noise pollution which can negatively impact the mental health of residents.

Sumner added that with the uncertainties of Brexit, it is the wrong time to deliver such a major Heathrow expansion.

Public meetings

Campaigners have accused the council – which in 2016, under then leader Kevin Davis, said it would “continue to make the case against the expansion of Heathrow in whatever way we can” –  of  not challenging the expansion strongly enough.

There have been a number of public meetings. On February 27, a public meeting brought Kingston and Richmond residents together for a formal consultation on the Heathrow Expansion.

There had also been two other consultations earlier that month.

“The Government (DfT) led on the consultations in February. We helped promote the events via our channels,” Kingston Council said.

Cllr Hilary Gander, Kingston Council Lead Member for Environment and Sustainable Transport, added:

“The fight will go on. The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is incompatible with climate commitments. It will mean that Kingston residents will have to suffer more congestion from surface traffic and higher levels of air and noise pollution.

“Liberal Democrat controlled councils, such our own and Richmond-upon-Thames, will continue to campaign against a third runway in the south-east, and instead look to alternatives to support economic opportunity across the whole of the United Kingdom.”

“Letting our children down”

Residents have also taken to Twitter to complain and boost public support:

How Heathrow’s flight path impacts Kingston. Source: Heathrow

As a mother, Sumner feels that by not doing anything, we are “letting our children down” and is counteracting that by pushing Kingston Council to declare a climate emergency and use that motion to join the fight against Heathrow on a central government level.

In 2017, NO2 was blamed for the deaths of 14, 000 UK residents. In Kingston, young people and children are at risk with areas around schools like Coombe Hill reported to be over the EU safe limits of NO2.

Sumner, who said she was “fed up of establishment politicians talking rather than doing”, has come together with residents and environmentalists to create a community action plan and campaign called Kingston Clean Air Now which gives the borough a solution to the air pollution problem and pressures Council to act.

Some elements of the plan include recommending green zones around schools, bringing back the Park and Ride scheme which was axed in 2014, ensuring sustainable home building and introducing zero-emission council vehicles.

Thames-side sunsets. Photo by: Kirsten Jenna Lee
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