Third Heathrow runway ruled illegal on climate change grounds

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PLANS for a third runway at Heathrow Airport are now under doubt as Court of Appeal ruled in favour of its opponents on environmental grounds.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of a coalition comprised of local authorities, including Hillingdon Council, together with Greenpeace, the Mayor of London, Plan B and Friends of the Earth.

They argued that Chris Grayling ignored factors such as air quality, noise pollution and traffic congestion when he gave the go-ahead in 2018 while acting as transport secretary.

The coalition persuaded the Court of Appeal that the Airports National Policy Statement, which had been designated by the government in June 2018, was unlawful on the grounds of climate change.

Councillor Ray Puddifoot, Leader of Hillingdon Council, commented on the decision: “Hillingdon Council has been fighting against Heathrow expansion for the past 20 years and was part of a coalition that defeated the Labour government’s expansion plan 10 years ago and I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has today ruled that the Airports National Policy Statement designated by the government in June 2018 is unlawful.

“Our residents have had to live for far too long with the possibility of homes and communities being destroyed and the detrimental consequences to their health and the environment caused by the proposed expansion.

“The current government has a firm commitment to dealing positively with climate change issues and to equalising economic growth across the country and given that Heathrow expansion would damage both, I am pleased that the government has decided not to appeal the court’s decision.

“Hopefully the government will, in the near future, announce that Heathrow expansion is off the agenda once and for all.”

A Government white paper first recommended expanding Heathrow Airport in 2003, and after more than a decade of back-and-forth, MPs voted in favour of expansion in June 2018.

The United Kingdom ratified the Paris agreement on 17 November 2016.

During the Judicial Review, the government conceded that it did not take the Paris Agreement into account in designating the Airports National Policy Statement.

The Court of Appeal found that the agreement constituted government policy and the government’s failure to take it into account was ‘legally fatal’ to the Statement.

A Heathrow spokesperson commented on the decision: “The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the government – including on ‘noise’ and ‘air quality’ – apart from one which is eminently fixable.

“We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful.

“In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.

“Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord.

“Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain.

“We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”

Today’s announcement explicitly does not prevent Heathrow expansion from moving ahead.

The judges now require the Government to undertake more work to ensure a third runway would definitely be compatible with a strategy to mitigate climate change under the Paris Agreement.

A spokesperson for Heathrow has stated that this is ’eminently achievable.’

This aspect of the ruling was also referred to in a summary statement made by Lord Justice Lindblom, Lord Justice Singh and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, stating: “Our decision should be properly understood.

“We have not decided, and could not decide, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow.

“We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake.

“The consequence of our decision is that the Government will now have the opportunity to reconsider the Airports National Policy Statement in accordance with the clear statutory requirements that Parliament has imposed.”

The Government has not sought permission to appeal the decision to Supreme Court.

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, commented on the ruling:

“What is emphatically clear in this judgement is that the Court of Appeal concluded that there was absolutely no legal means by which the Government could ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, and that such an omission was a fatal flaw to the lawfulness of the policy to green-light a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

“The Lord Justices simply followed the legal framework set by Parliament, citing as they did their fundamental function to maintain the rule of law, and found that the Paris Agreement was so obviously material to a decision on Heathrow Airport expansion that the Secretary of State was legally bound to consider it.

“The Government must now go back to the drawing board and come up with a new policy, which lawfully fulfils its sustainable development duties and protects future generations.”

Earlier this month a planning application to expand Bristol Airport was rejected by North Somerset Council on environmental grounds.