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Heathrow expansion plans go to court

Words: Roger Milne
Third runway at Heathrow Airport / Heathrow Airport

A hearing into a slew of legal challenges to the government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport opens in London’s High Court today (11 March).

The litigation is set to last for two weeks and will focus on the implications of the airport National Policy Statement (NPS).

The legal actions are being mounted by a coalition of local authorities around the West London airport as well as environmental groups like Plan B, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.  

In addition, the Mayor of London has lined up his arguments against the proposals, which do not yet have planning permission and will require a development consent order (DCO) – currently in the pipeline.

Also due in court is Heathrow Hub, which has argued that extending one of the existing runways at Heathrow would be a more cost-effective way of expanding the airport.

The issues under scrutiny by two High Court judges include:

  • Air quality: the increased surface transport will necessarily breach air quality limits and/or slow down their achievement.
  • Bias: the decision to choose the north-west runway over the other options was a foregone conclusion.
  • Climate change: the Climate Change Act and the Paris convention were not properly considered.
  • Habitats: Heathrow was chosen over Gatwick, even though it potentially affects many more European-level protected sites compared with Gatwick.
  • Noise: the effect of noise from an expanded Heathrow has not been properly assessed.
  • Surface access: the impact on the surrounding road network has not been properly assessed.

BDB Pitmans' Planning Act 2008 specialist Angus Walker has blogged: “What will happen once the case has been heard? Given its size I would not expect judgment on it for a couple of months, after which the losing side may well appeal to the Court of Appeal.

“Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) is preparing an application for a DCO. A consultation it held on airspace and future operations just closed a week ago and a full statutory consultation is planned for June.

“If the judicial review is successful and part or all the NPS must be reconsidered, Heathrow could still carry on – it is not necessary for an NPS to be in place for a DCO application to be made and decided. HAL will have to decide whether to press on with its consultation and then the preparation of its application depending on the outcome of (or continuing litigation about) the judicial reviews.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "The climate minister has admitted we're in the grip of a climate emergency. The environment secretary has declared air pollution one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK. So how can ministers justify building a runway that's bound to make both problems much worse? Governments are very happy to talk the talk when it comes to protecting the air we breathe and the climate we all share, but unfortunately, getting them to walk the walk often takes legal action."

Image credit | Heathrow Airport