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Bob Neill MP: Lawyers 'rubbing their hands in glee' over potential challenges to Heathrow expansion

Bob Neill MP: Lawyers 'rubbing their hands in glee' over potential challenges to Heathrow expansion
3 min read

The Justice Committee Chair writes that plans to expand Heathrow announced this week are 'a perfect recipe for judicial review'.

While I imagine more than a glass or two of champagne was quaffed at Heathrow’s head offices on Tuesday, you can bet they weren’t the only ones celebrating the Government’s momentous decision on airport expansion. Well-heeled lawyers across west London will be rubbing their hands in glee knowing that the proposals put forward by Heathrow are a perfect recipe for judicial review.

I fear that through the squabbles of the respective lobbying campaigns and the long, arduous decision-making process – which, frustrating as it is, has been necessary - the Government has forgotten the fundamental point at the heart of this debate: Britain needs to expand its aviation capacity as soon as possible, something that will become all the more important as Brexit looms.

The Airport Commission has itself recognised that the cost of failing to address existing capacity constraints amounts to £21-23 billion of costs to users of airport infrastructure, and an additional £30-45 billion of costs to the wider economy, over a 60 year period. In other words, there is a premium on speed.

Why then have we chained ourselves to the option that, without question, and if deliverable at all, will be subject to delay after delay? Already, four borough councils - Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead, with the support of Greenpeace – have announced their intention to lodge a joint legal challenge to the decision. Plenty more will inevitably follow suit, including the Mayor of London.

There are ample good, well-rehearsed and highly publicised reasons why Heathrow shouldn’t be expanded. Take, for example, the fact that it already generates more noise than its five largest European rivals together, or that, once expanded, it would account for 58.9% of the UK aviation’s carbon limit. That’s before you even consider the exorbitant sums of public money needed to subsidise surface access to the airport.

Heathrow has been in this situation before, and for the same reasons, will fail again. There is simply too much opposition to it, based not on nimbyism or parochial self-interest from the communities affected, but on sound legal judgement. It will not meet the legal test on air quality, considerably more people will be affected by noise (837,000, compared to 37,000 at Gatwick), and even if it were to receive planning permission, I suspect it will leave the process beaten black and blue and heaped with so many conditions that the final result will be a husk of the proposals given the green light this week.

The risk attached to Heathrow, and the evidence stacked against it, is simply too high to give us the solution we need. There are other options which, although not perfect, provide almost identical economic benefits and options for both short and long haul routes, but with significantly less potential for legal challenge.

It is a complete red herring to suggest that Heathrow will solve our aviation dilemma. If we get this wrong, it will not only be an international embarrassment but will also put in jeopardy the Government’s post-Brexit drive to build a global, outward looking Britain.

I fought the 2010 general election and two elections for the London Assembly on the platform that I opposed Heathrow expansion. I have also campaigned in various Mayor of London elections saying I was against a third runway. I’m not about to change my mind now.

Bob Neill is the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst & the Chair of the Justice Committee. He is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London.

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