Airport expansion plans challenged in Court

Government plans for airport expansion in the south east were challenged this week as the High Court began a Judicial Review of the Aviation White Paper.

It is the first time that the courts have allowed a Judicial Review of any government white paper. Mr Justice Sullivan opened the inquiry into plans for expansion at Heathrow, Stansted and Luton announced in the White Paper last December (see related story).

The government is being challenged by airport campaign groups representing communities around Stansted, Luton and Heathrow as well as the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Hillingdon.

The review will focus on what the campaigners say were "specific shortcomings in the decision making process":

  • that the consultation document leading up to the White Paper did not make clear that the ending of runway alternation at Heathrow could be a short term alternative to a third runway;

  • that the consultation document failed to give people the opportunity of commenting on the proposal of going for an extended runway at Luton;

  • that the White Paper ignores the absence of a commercial justification for a second Stansted runway, contrary to the government's own ground rules for the consultation; and

  • that the government failed to provide the public woth information about alternative proposals for new airports at Thames Reach and on the Isle of Sheppey and failed to give proper consideration to those options.

    John Stewart, Chair of campaign group HACAN ClearSkies, said: "These challenges spell double trouble for the government. Almost exactly a year ago the government published its 30 year aviation white paper with much fanfare. It hoped that would be the end of the debate and it could proceed with its plans for a massive expansion of aviation. Yet, a year later the protesters are still here and stronger than ever."

    Mr Justice Sullivan has set aside six days for the combined hearing and a decision is not expected before February 2005.

    Speaking ahead of the court action, Peter Sanders Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion said : "We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge before us because the courts have never before overturned a government White Paper. Our aim is to overturn the conclusions of the White Paper and force government to think again about the whole issue of airport expansion in the south east. This action is just one element in our much broader campaign founded on challenging expansion through a range of legal avenues, the planning process and economic routes to defeat the unsustainable proposals once and for all."

    In addition this week, a new institute was launched to investigate the future effects of aircraft emissions. The Institute for Aviation and the Environment (IAE) will look at the physics and chemistry of aviation emissions from their formation in the aircraft engine to their impact on near airport pollution and global climate change. It will also investigate technological and operational solutions to minimise that impact, along with possible regulatory policies, while taking into account socioeconomic decisions.

    By David Hopkins

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