Jeremy Corbyn calls on Labour to put pollution on the agenda by opposing Heathrow expansion

The Labour leader warns a third runway at the airport could exacerbate the Government’s 'dreadful record on air quality'

Oliver Wright,Charlie Cooper
Monday 12 October 2015 20:44
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Protesters and supporters of The Coalition Against Heathrow Expansion in Parliament Square, London at the weekend
Protesters and supporters of The Coalition Against Heathrow Expansion in Parliament Square, London at the weekend

Jeremy Corbyn has signalled that he expects Labour MPs to oppose a third Heathrow runway – warning that the development could exacerbate the Government’s “dreadful record on air quality”.

In a memo to senior members of his Shadow Cabinet seen by The Independent, Mr Corbyn linked the planned Heathrow development with the scandal over polluting diesel cars.

Jeremy Corbyn has linked the planned Heathrow development with the scandal over polluting diesel cars

He also called for Labour to make air pollution a key campaign issue over the next few months, suggesting it should have “significant implications for any decision on airport expansion”.

“Jeremy is clear that he expects Labour to now oppose a third runway at Heathrow,” a party source said. “It is now up to the Government to decide what to do.”

The decision by Labour to officially come out against a third runway will be a major stumbling block for Heathrow expansion.

When the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, came out in favour of building a new runway in July, Labour’s then shadow Transport Secretary Michael Dugher suggested the party would back his recommendations. But Mr Corbyn campaigned against Heathrow expansion during the Labour leadership contest and is now signalling that he expects the rest of the party to fall in line.

With David Cameron facing a rebellion among a number of his own backbenchers who oppose a third runway – including several members of his Cabinet – the Prime Minister will need the votes of Labour MPs to get the plan through Parliament. It is still possible that some Labour MPs could decide to defy Mr Corbyn and back Heathrow but with stark divisions in the party on Trident and Syria most will not want to pick a fight with the leadership on aviation.

Signalling the new approach, Kerry McCarthy, the shadow Environment Secretary, said pollution levels were “critical” to any decision about airport expansion.

“Air quality is currently at illegal levels at Heathrow,” she said.

“I am concerned about Sir Howard Davies saying that ‘limited weight’ should be put on the issue of air quality in relation to airport expansion.

“His own consultation on the issue was a cursory three weeks at the very end of his process. In 2009 the Government approved Heathrow expansion on the basis that air quality in the area would comply with legal limits by 2015.

Air quality is currently at illegal levels at Heathrow

&#13; <p>Kerry McCarthy, shadow Environment Secretary</p>&#13;

“Over the six-year period it has got worse not better. In the light of the VW scandal and potentially millions more car journeys to an expanded Heathrow there is a very real risk that history will repeat itself.”

In his memo to Ms McCarthy and the new shadow Transport Secretary Lilian Greenwood, Mr Corbyn said he wanted Labour to make air pollution a key issue for the party.

Labour Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan spoke at the demonstration in Parliament Square

“One issue that I want us to highlight over the next few months is the Government’s dreadful record on air quality and the more than 50,000 premature deaths a year it is estimated this causes,” he said.

“This is brought into sharp relief by the Volkswagen Diesel deceit story which we should pursue energetically… (But) the issue also has significant implications for any decision on airport expansion. I would encourage you to work closely together on this.”

Mr Cameron has said that he will announce the Government’s decision on whether to back a third runway at Heathrow or a second runway at Gatwick before Christmas.

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