High Court decision means airport expansion legal wrangles are likely to extend to at least next March
The legal battle over the government’s controversial decision to approve the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport is set to continue, after the High Court today granted permission for five legal challenges against expanding the airport to proceed to full hearings.
The move means legal wrangles over Heathrow’s expansion plans will likely spill over until at least Spring next year, with Justice Holgate today confirming the cases lodged by five different parties – including environmental campaigners and a group of London councils – will be heard over 10 days in March 2019.
Critics argue Heathrow expansion is incompatible with the UK’s long-term climate targets and could blow a huge hole in statutory carbon budgets, in addition to leading to increased local noise and air pollution.
Proponents of Heathrow Airport expansion, however, argue the project is necessary for boosting to jobs and growth, and that improvements in aviation technology will make the new runway compatible with long term carbon and air quality targets.
The five parties challenging the UK government’s decision this summer to grant permission for a third Heathrow runway at the High Court are: a consortium including the local authorities of Hillingdon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead, Greenpeace, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan; Heathrow Hub Limited – promoters of a rival scheme to expand Heathrow; Friends of the Earth; Plan B, an environmental campaign group; and Neil Spurrier, a Twickenham resident.
Paul McGuinness, chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition of MPs, campaign groups, and residents opposing Heathrow expansion, said it was “not insignificant” the judge permitted all five claims to proceed to Judicial Review, stressing that four of the claims “raise some serious points of law”.
“If the government had not ignored available evidence in their blinkered enthusiasm to expand this already highly disruptive airport, parliament would not have supported the proposal, and these actions would not have been necessary,” he said.
Tim Crosland, director of Plan B, also welcomed today’s decision. “It’s clear that plans to expand Heathrow Airport are inconsistent with this government’s own commitment to the Paris Agreement, a fact which Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary has conveniently ignored,” he said in a statement. “We need the government to confront the climate crisis head-on and to invest in clean forms of transport, not the most polluting kind. Wildfires in the Arctic Circle over the summer must be a wake-up call.”
Despite the on-going legal action, the Department for Transport said today’s High Court decision would not impact on Heathrow Airport’s planning application nor its timetable for constructing an additional runway.
“Expansion at Heathrow is a critical programme which will provide a boost to the economy, increase our international links and create tens of thousands of new jobs,” a DfT statement said. “As with any major infrastructure project, we have been anticipating legal challenges and will robustly defend our position.”
In its own statement, Heathrow Airport said it remained “confident” in its plans, stressing “overwhelming corss party” backing for a third runway in this summer’s vote in Parliament.
“Today’s hearing is part of the normal court process when large infrastructure projects are legally challenged,” the statement said. “We remain on-track for the first plane to depart from a third runway at Heathrow in 2026.”
Ahead of today’s hearing, John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor – whose constituency sits next door to Heathrow and – gave a speech to campaigners outside the High Court.
He argued the third runway project was “increasingly recognised as a non-runner” and that the government needed to listen to campaigners and “stop wasting taxpayers money in another failing Grayling project”.
“A government that prevents Heathrow going ahead will send a message that we are serious about climate change, serious about creating a zero-carbon economy and the development of our transport network will not be concentrated in one part of the country,” he said.