Judges give first-stage approval for Heathrow runway

The UK government has insisted that Heathrow’s third runway can be built within the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limits for aviation emissions, after winning a judicial review case brought against the project.


A number of local authorities near Heathrow, and London mayor Sadiq Khan, took the government to court over its planned third runway, arguing that it would require the demolition of thousands of homes, increase road traffic, noise and air pollution and was contrary to policies on climate change.

But judges said it was not for them to decide the merits of the project but only whether the government’s Airports National Policy Statement had fallen into any legal error, and they found none.

The objectors said there would be a further stage of legal proceedings when damage to health and the environment would be more closely scrutinised.  
The councils have pledged to maintain detailed scrutiny of all aspects of the airport’s planning application for the runway, including how it intends to meet its obligations on noise, air quality and surface access. 

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “The government welcomes today’s judgments from the High Court. Of 26 grounds, all were dismissed with 21 of the 26 not even held to be arguable. 

“The positive outcome confirms my belief that government undertook a robust process in coming to its decision to support a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport by 2030.”

He said international aviation emissions are excluded from UK carbon budgets and “this is consistent with the Paris Agreement, which looks to the International Civil Aviation Organisation to provide leadership. 
“The UK supports this approach and is continuing to lead negotiations on this issue. In coming to our decision to support expansion at Heathrow, the Airports Commission and the department concluded that expansion is possible within the UK’s current climate change obligations and the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limit for aviation emissions. 

“We are clear that expansion would only take place if it would not materially impact the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets now and in the future.”

Objections to Mr Grayling’s airport policy came from the councils of Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond upon Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead councils, together with Khan and campaign group Greenpeace.

Wandsworth’s Conservative leader Ravi Govindia said: “Today’s ruling is hugely disappointing for Londoners. It shows that the government can drive through expansion plans without properly considering the full environmental and health impacts. But it does not mean the runway will ever be built. It still faces enormous legal obstacles particularly around air pollution.”

Richmond’s Liberal Democrat leader Gareth Roberts said: “A runway that breaches legal air quality limits simply cannot be built and opened. Nothing in today’s ruling changes that.”

Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change at WWF, said politicians could not be taken seriously on air pollution and climate change if they proceeded with the project.

Image credit | iStock

Mark Smulian is a freelance journalist

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