Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, lifted the lid yesterday on the Cabinet-level debate on the expansion of Heathrow, saying the government must not contemplate allowing itself to breach air pollution limits set by the European commission.
His intervention could potentially put a break on government expansion plans.
Air pollution around Heathrow already exceeds limits set by the commission and Britain is expected to seek a temporary abrogation from an air pollution directive agreed in June, but only on the basis that it will be able to meet the pollution requirements by 2015, the deadline set by the commission.
Britain will have to satisfy the commission that Heathrow's expansion will not undermine Britain's ability to meet its commitments by 2015.
Apart from a shocking spelling mistake, Wintour has it wrong and has probably been influenced by government spin. In order to get a derogation from the directive, Britain will have to satisfy the commission that Heathrow expansion will not undermine Britain's ability to meet its commitments before 2015. The commission is not going to give Britain a derogation to allow it to increase pollution in the meantime.
Wintour quotes something Geoff Hoon said in last month's commons debate, showing that he (Wintour) doesn't really get it:
In a Commons debate last month Hoon told MPs: "The problems are mainly to do with existing pollution from traffic in Greater London, including around Heathrow, and traffic in other major cities across the country. They are not to do with decisions about future capacity at Heathrow.
"Reports that we are seeking to abrogate from our responsibilities in this area solely in order to promote expansion at Heathrow are completely and utterly wrong."
The fact that Hoon had to add the qualification "solely" is an indirect admission that the derogation is partly related to Heathrow expansion, even if, as most people know, the government will be in trouble in 2010 anyway.