Transport Secretary rejects calls to oppose Heathrow Airport expansion on climate grounds

The new runway would see Heathrow Airport go from overseeing 480

The UK Government’s decision to support the third runway was ruled unlawful on climate grounds by the Court of Appeal in early 2020, but that ruling was quashed by the Supreme Court in December 2020.

With MPs officially returning from summer recess on Monday (6 September), Shapps responded to mounting calls from green groups, urging a reconsideration of the Government’s position on the Heathrow expansion.

In a letter, published on the Department for Transport (DfT) website, Shapps dismissed concerns over noise, air quality, health impacts, climate impacts and other issues raised by various environmental and community groups.

The Government’s decision does not mean, in and of itself, that the third runway at Heathrow will be built. The airport, as a corporate, still needs to submit planning applications, complete a public inquiry and secure the backing of Parliament.

The letter concerns not only the Government’s standalone decision on Heathrow, but the broader Airports National Policy Statement (APNS). The APNS was published in 2018 under Theresa May’s government and states that Heathrow would be the preferred location for adding airport capacity in the UK. Notably, it was developed before the UK updated the Climate Change Act to enshrine its 2050 net-zero target in law.

But Shapps has argued that it “is not appropriate to review the ANPS on the basis of climate change or carbon policy at this time”. The letter argues – in contrast to the research of the Government’s own advisors at the Climate Change Committee (CCC) – that the Government’s existing approach is aligned with its long-term climate commitments, including net-zero by 2050 and the Sixth Carbon Budget, which commits the UK to reducing emissions by 78% by 2035, against a 1990 baseline.

The letter adds that a review of the ANPS may be undertaken if the Government is compelled to revise its ‘Jet Zero Strategy’ as a result of consultation findings. The consultation closes on Friday (10 September) and results are expected in late 2021 at the earliest. Green groups have criticised the Government’s decision not to put a block on airport expansion through the Strategy, which was published in July as part of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

Shapps has also cited the Covid-19 pandemic as a cause for delaying a potential review to the ANPS.

“It is too soon to be able to determine what the effect of the pandemic will be on the longer-term aviation demand upon which the ANPS is predicated,” the letter states.

“The impact of Covid-19 on aviation passenger demand will continue to be monitored by the Department and it is intended that medium to long-term forecasts will be produced as and when the data is available, and the outlook is more certain.”

According to polling by the Independent, major UK airports broadly expected just 20-40% of their usual passenger numbers during July and August.  

Sarah George

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