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High Court throws out Heathrow expansion complaints

2 May 19 The government has expressed delight at the High Court’s decision to uphold its Airports National Policy Statement but opponents of construction of a third Heathrow runway say that the battle continues.

Clear for take-off...
Clear for take-off...

The High Court yesterday ruled in favour of the government and against five claimants seeking judicial review of government’s support for Heathrow expansion.

The review bundled up four claims brought by a coalition of London boroughs and the mayor of London and several environmental lobby groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.  The fifth claim was brought by the promoters of a rival Heathrow scheme, Heathrow Hub, which would double the length of the existing northern runway to allow it to operate as two independent runways, instead of building a separate third runway.

On 1 May 2019, the court handed down two judgments, one dealing with 22 grounds of challenge in the first four claims and the second judgment dealing with the five grounds of claim in the fifth claim.

All of the claims were dismissed. Friends of the Earth said that it would appeal. Heathrow Hub said it was considering its options.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling welcomed the ruling: “The positive outcome confirms my belief that government undertook a robust process in coming to its decision to support a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport by 2030,” he said. “This was one of the largest public law challenges of all time and I am pleased that the hard work of the independent Airports Commission and the department has been shown in good light. In designating the Airports National Policy Statement, this government demonstrated its willingness to take difficult decisions, resolving an issue with which successive administrations had grappled for decades.”

He added: “This government has taken the right decision, endorsed by a large majority of MPs, which had been ducked by other governments for decades. The expansion of Heathrow is vital to our international connectivity and shows confidence in the future prosperity of global Britain. The court’s decision confirms that the right process was followed throughout. We could not be more pleased with the outcome which will benefit people and businesses the length and breadth of the UK for decades to come.”

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Expanding Heathrow is wrong on every level and we can’t let it go. I could not sleep at night if Friends of the Earth did not challenge this decision. We are going to appeal because we believe the Court got it wrong.

“We are in an ecological and climate emergency and parliament have supported an outdated decision to chase climate-wrecking development. How can we take any government remotely seriously when they claim to care about climate chaos while supporting this runway?

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“We are going to continue this fight because it’s about more than a runway, it is actually about a future fit for our children.”

On the climate case the court ruled that the secretary of state did not have to consider Paris but only the targets and policy under the Climate Change Act, even though it is accepted those targets do not go far enough. This is likely to be the focus of Friends of the Earth’s appeal.

However Chris Grayling said: “I want to address climate change where the UK continues to lead internationally. While international aviation emissions currently represent less than 2% of total global emissions, we recognise the challenge that decarbonisation of aviation represents. International aviation emissions are currently excluded from UK carbon budgets – this is consistent with the Paris Agreement, which looks to the International Civil Aviation Organisation to provide leadership. The UK supports this approach and is continuing to lead negotiations on this issue. In coming to our decision to support expansion at Heathrow, the Airports Commission and the department concluded that expansion is possible within the UK’s current climate change obligations and the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limit for aviation emissions. We are clear that expansion would only take place if it would not materially impact the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets now and in the future.

“The government is currently consulting on its aviation strategy green paper, which creates a plan for sustainable growth that benefits the whole of the UK to 2050 and beyond. In developing the strategy, we will carefully consider the Committee on Climate Change’s forthcoming advice on the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions reduction targets.”

Heathrow Airport Limited will now proceed with further consultation on its scheme masterplan in June before than applying for development consent which would be considered by the Planning Inspectorate.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are delighted with today’s ruling which is a further demonstration that the debate on Heathrow expansion has been had and won, not only in Parliament, but in the courts also. We are getting on with delivering the once-in-a-generation project that will connect Britain to global growth, providing thousands of new jobs and an economic boost for this country and its future generations.”

The full court judgment can be read at

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