High Court rules in favour of massive airport expansion
A significant expansion of capacity at airports in the south east is likely to go ahead after a High Court ruling last week that the Government's plans for increasing airline capacity are lawful.The case was brought after the courts permitted a judicial review of the government's Aviation White Paper - the first time such a review has been allowed against any white paper (see related story). The white paper proposed expansion in Stansted, Heathrow and Luton airports.
Demand for cheap air travel has grown enormously in the past few years, particularly in the south east as London is such a huge tourist destination. Stansted has been chosen as the site for the first new runway in the south east.
However, the judgement was not entirely in favour of the government line as it also stipulated that local authorities and local residents should be consulted further as well as have a say in where the new Stansted runway should be built and how much land it should take up. It stated that the current plan for Stansted to have "the wide spaced runway option presented in the consultation document" was unfair.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Sullivan said that the Government should: "remember that the obligation to tell the truth does not mean that the Court need only be told so much of the truth as suits the Department's case, and that inconvenient parts of the truth may be omitted from their evidence." In particular, the judge referred to the Government withholding evidence of serious Treasury concerns over the commercial viability of a second Stansted runway.
Further consultations will also be needed before expansion at Luton Airport can go ahead, but the court has allowed plans for a third runway at Heathrow to continue as planned.
The CBI welcomed the judgement. "The economic case for airport development in the south east, and elsewhere in the UK, is as strong today as it was when the government published its aviation white paper. Airports and ports are our gateway to overseas markets. If the UK is to keep its status as the world's premier trading nation we must allow airports to grow sensibly and that includes Heathrow and Stansted. British jobs depend on it," said CBI Director General Digby Jones.
However, he did recognise that airport expansion could affect the environment and added that aviation should be brought under the umbrella of emissions trading as part of the fight against climate change.
Conservation groups also claimed some sense of victory in the ruling.
Peter Sanders, Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion described the decision as "a vindication of what we have said all along about the White Paper being fundamentally flawed and an important milestone in our battle to prevent BAA from ever building a second runway at Stansted."
However, he added that the decision now created even more uncertainty for the local community. The Stop Stansted Expansion group is now exploring every avenue for appealing against the second runway.
It has been estimated that the proposed runway at Stansted would mean an extra 14,000 people would suffer from higher levels of noise, while the proposed runway at Heathrow would affect up to 30,000 people from higher levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.
By David Hopkins