London Heathrow Airport’s bid to build a third runway appears to finally be over – more than 10 years after the government gave it the go-ahead.
On Thursday, the UK’s Court of Appeal ruled the expansion was unlawful because it failed to take into consideration climate change targets. Later, Transport Minister Grant Shapps insisted the government wouldn’t appeal and would instead expand existing regional airports.
Heathrow has signalled it will attempt to move the case to the Supreme Court, but legal experts have played down its chances of succeeding without state backing.
Heathrow is the UK’s busiest airport, serving 80 million passengers a year across two runways and four terminals. More than 40 per cent of the UK’s exports to non-EU countries go through the transport hub.
The expansion, first given the green light in 2009, would have resulted in an extra 700 flights a day, but meant the demolition of more than 750 homes. The decision is likely to have worldwide repercussions as the aviation industry battles against a growing global climate movement.
Talking to a packed courtroom, Lord Justice Sir Keith Lindblom said, “The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the secretary of state [for transport] in the preparation of an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not. That, in our view, is legally fatal to the ANPS in its present form.”
The UK has, along with other EU member states, pledged to reduce emissions to at least 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030.
Minister Shapps signalled the government wouldn’t challenge the landmark ruling.
He 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. The government has taken the decision not to appeal this judgment.”
Whitehall sources later briefed that the government would be pursuing the expansion of regional airports, as well as redrawing flight paths to increase overall capacity.
Heathrow, though, has signalled it will fight on.
An airport spokesperson later said, “We will appeal to the Supreme Court … 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’.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, once famously indicated he would rather lie, “in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway”.
Angus Walker, a planning partner at law firm BDB Pitmans, told The Times newspaper any private appeal is unlikely to succeed.
“I would think that Heathrow Airport Ltd’s chance of success in the Supreme Court was slim in the light of the Court of Appeal’s ruling,” he said.
“Even if they were successful it might well be a pyrrhic victory, as the government might by then have decided to start a review of the national policy statement in the light of this judgment, rendering any success academic.”
The decision marks the end of a bitter and long-running dispute that first began when then-prime minister Gordon Brown gave the project the green light back in 2009. The next administration, a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, reversed the decision, before the subsequent prime minister, Theresa May, backed the project.
However, the scheme infuriated campaigners who said it would result in the demolition of 761 homes and involve diverting rivers, moving roads and rerouting the M25 motorway around London through a tunnel under the runway.