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Heathrow’s third runway given major boost after Supreme Court win

Neil Lancefield and Sian Harrison, PA
·3-min read

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow have been given a major boost after the airport’s owner won a Supreme Court challenge.

Heathrow Airport Ltd successfully overturned an earlier ruling that the Government had failed to take account of its own climate commitments when it approved the scheme.

The west London airport said the latest decision will “allow global Britain to become a reality”.

Environmental groups and other opponents of the expansion project described the outcome as “incredibly disappointing” but insisted there “remains real doubt” about whether the third runway will ever happen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson opposed the third runway plans when he was London’s mayor and promised to “lie down … in front of those bulldozers” to stop it being built.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the UK must take measures to limit global warming to well below 2C.

The Court of Appeal considered the case following a challenge by a group of councils in London affected by the expansion, environmental charities including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth, and London mayor Sadiq Khan.

In late February, three leading judges concluded that former transport secretary Chris Grayling’s support for the project in an Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) did not meet the Government’s pledge to tackle climate change.

But giving a summary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday, Lord Sales said Mr Grayling’s decision was lawful and he was under “no obligation” to discuss the Paris Agreement separately in the ANPS.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

A Heathrow spokesman said: “Only by expanding the UK’s hub airport can we connect all of Britain to all of the growing markets of the world, helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of our country.

“Demand for aviation will recover from Covid-19 and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.

“Heathrow has already committed to net-zero and this ruling recognises the robust planning process that will require us to prove expansion is compliant with the UK’s climate change obligations, including the Paris climate agreement, before construction can begin.”

But doubts remain about whether the third runway will go ahead, given environmental concerns and the collapse in demand for air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Khan said: “I am disappointed with the court’s decision today to allow Heathrow Airport a third runway which will have a damaging impact on air quality, noise and London’s ability to achieve net-zero carbon by 2030.

“I would urge Heathrow to drop these damaging expansionist plans.”

A plane taking off from Heathrow Airport
A plane taking off from Heathrow Airport (Steve Parsons/PA)

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This is incredibly disappointing news and takes us backwards in our response to the climate crisis.

“Commercial interests have won out over the protection of our planet and the wellbeing of future generations.”

John Stewart, who chairs anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said: “Despite this verdict, there remains real doubt about whether the third runway will ever see the light of day.

“Recovery is all that is on Heathrow’s mind right now. Flight numbers are down nearly 90%. The airport’s expansion team has long since been disbanded.

“A third runway remains no more than a distant and uncertain prospect.”