Fri, 20 May 2022

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By Sam Lowe
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Heathrow third runway plans ruled illegal in major blow for Government

Heathrow third runway plans ruled illegal in major blow for Government
3 min read

The Government’s plans to allow a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled unlawful for failing to consider the environmental impact of the scheme.

In a major blow to the project, judges agreed that the runway did not take into account the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

But other challenges to the Department of Transport’s policy document regarding noise and air quality were not upheld by the court.

Ministers now have the option to scrap the project, or present a new policy document outlining the environmental impact of a third runway.

The decision was welcomed by campaign groups that brought the legal challenge, which included Friends of the Earth and Plan B, as well as Heathrow Hub Ltd, Greenpeace, the Mayor of London and five local councils.

Their case initially failed in the high court in May 2019, but was allowed an appeal in October, with the verdict delivered on Thursday morning.

“We are delighted with The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which goes to show the massive importance of the legal system to check the clear abuse of state power by government, such as in this case,” said Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth.

“Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go-ahead. The Court has said very clearly that it was illegal.”


Meanwhile John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, said: “No amount of spin from Heathrow’s PR machine can obscure the carbon logic of a new runway. 

“Their plans would pollute as much as a small country.”

“Boris Johnson should now put Heathrow out of its misery and cancel the third runway once and for all. No ifs, no buts, no lies, no u-turns.”

And Liberal Democrat acting leader Ed Davey said: "I am delighted that the Court of Appeal have made this decision. Building a third runway at Heathrow would make it almost impossible for the UK to achieve net-zero.
"The Prime Minister once pledged to ‘lie down’ in front of the bulldozers – well he doesn’t even need to do that. If the Conservatives are serious about taking the climate emergency, they should simply cancel Heathrow expansion once and for all."

The Prime Minister himself has long been opposed to a third runway at the UK’s largest airport, and famously once promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent its construction.

Appeal judges stated that the Government had not asked for permission to appeal their decision in the Supreme Court. 

A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “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.”

Responding to the ruling, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We have always been clear that Heathrow expansion is a private sector project which must meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change, as well as being privately financed, affordable, and delivered in the best interest of consumers.

He added: “This Government has taken the decision not to appeal today’s judgment. We take seriously our commitments on the environment, clean air and reducing carbon emissions.

"We will carefully consider this complex judgment and set out our next steps in due course.”

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