Government won’t appeal Heathrow expansion court decision

UPDATED: The UK Government will not appeal a court decision to block the development of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, which was issued in response to climate change concerns and national targets aligned to the Paris Agreement.

Government won’t appeal Heathrow expansion court decision

Judges have said that the third runway could go ahead

The Court of Appeal yesterday (27 February) upheld the challenge issued by environmental groups, concluding that the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was “unlawful” due to climate grounds, notably that it didn’t align to the needs of the Paris Agreement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been quoted as opposing the runway back in 2015, saying he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction”. The transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that the Government won’t appeal the decision.

“Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity,” Mr Shapps tweeted.


“We also take seriously our commitment to the environment. This govt won’t appeal today’s judgement given our manifesto makes clear any #Heathrow expansion will be industry-led.”

Judges have said that the third runway could go ahead, provided it fits in with the UK’s climate commitments.

Heathrow plans to appeal to the Supreme Court on one “eminently fixable” aspect of the ruling.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the government – including on “noise” and “air quality” – apart from one which is eminently fixable. We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue 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. 

“Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”

The ruling comes as the UK Government looks to strengthen decarbonisation efforts during a “year of climate action” that will culminate with the hosting of the COP26 climate conference later this.

Friends of the Earth’s head of legal Will Rundle said: “We are delighted with The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which goes to show the massive importance of the legal system to check the clear abuse of state power by government, such as in this case.

“Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go-ahead. The Court has said very clearly that was illegal. This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions. It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”

The UK Government had been taken to court by a coalition of Greenpeace, the mayor of London and local councils over the anticipated increase in noise and pollution that the third runway would introduce. Friends of the Earth also filed a claim against the expansion, based on a perceived failure to consider climate change as part of national sustainable development.

The High Court was told last year that the UK’s ability to reach its 2050 aviation emissions already required other industries and sectors to reduce emissions by 85%, which was “at the limit of what is feasible…with limited confidence about the scope for going beyond this”. However, the court dismissed the case in May last year.

Heathrow’s masterplan

Heathrow Airport announced its intention to become a zero-carbon airport by the mid-2030s, after reaching carbon-neutral status for its buildings and infrastructure last week (21 February).

Heathrow Airport has set the zero-carbon intention after noting that it has spent more than £100m to improve energy efficiency and to purchase renewable energy – a move that has reduced emissions from airport buildings and infrastructure by 93% over the last 30 years.

The remaining 7% of infrastructure emissions, namely those from heating, will now be offset to enable Heathrow to reach carbon neutral status, and strive ahead with a zero-carbon ambition.

In 2019, Heathrow had around 80 million passengers board flights at the airport. Even if Heathrow realises its zero-carbon airport ambition, aircraft landing and taking off will still be emitting.

Heathrow’s “preferred masterplan” outlining the development of the controversial third runway was released 18 June. Plans to re-route the M25, divert rivers and reposition car parks and buildings as part of the masterplan for Heathrow Airport’s third runway approval have been described as “climate-wrecking” by concerned politicians and green groups.

Heathrow has implemented an ambitious sustainability programme aimed at mitigating the negative environmental impact of a third runway. The all-encompassing strategy, dubbed Heathrow 2.0, lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues.

The ambition is for all growth from the airport’s new runway will be carbon-neutral; the last 5% of flights made by the most polluting aircraft will have been removed, NOx emissions from airport-related traffic will have been reduced by at least 40% from a 2013 baseline, and a new Centre of Excellence for sustainable aviation will be developed.

However, it is estimated that the number of flights at Heathrow Airport will increase from 480,000 currently to 760,000 each year by 2026, which will clash with the UK climate target for 2050.

Reacting to the news, Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said: “This landmark judgment should be the death knell for a scheme which is incompatible with tackling the climate emergency.

“The UK’s legal commitment to net-zero and the Paris Agreement must mean urgent and radical reductions in carbon emissions. Allowing Heathrow expansion which could have contributed to the near doubling in demand for flights was always totally inconsistent with that goal.

“All governments, businesses and investors around the world must now consider the precedent set by this judgment when taking decisions that impact our climate. It must mark the end of ‘business as usual’. All policies from road building to trade deals must now be subject to the question – are they climate safe?”

More the follow…

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. John Thompson says:

    If the Government made some of the Freight companies relocate to other UK Airports it would result in two major advantages with positive effects on Sustainability:
    1. Less planes landings at Heathrow, so it could manage with two runways
    2. Freight would be much landed closer to its final destination thereby cutting haulage journeys
    Its not Rocket Science!
    John Thompson

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