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UK's Heathrow airport begins appeal against expansion block

·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport in west London
FILE PHOTO: An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport in west London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Heathrow airport launched an appeal to overturn a block on its expansion plans on Wednesday, sticking to its long-held desire to build a new runway despite the pandemic pushing passenger numbers down by over 80%.

The $18 billion expansion was declared unlawful on environmental grounds by a court in February, after a judge said that a failure to take into account the UK government's commitments on climate change was "legally fatal" to the plans.

But at a virtual Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday, Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe prior to the pandemic, said it had always been the case that planning permission would depend on its compliance with carbon reduction obligations.

"Heathrow will ensure the expansion project is compliant with the UK’s climate-change obligations, including under the Paris Climate Agreement, as part of our plans to reach net-zero carbon. We fully expect to be held to account by government through the planning process," a Heathrow spokesman said.

Since the ruling against the runway in February, the aviation sector has been hit by its worst ever downturn, meaning Heathrow now has plenty of spare capacity.

But the airport, owned by Spain's Ferrovial <FER.MC>, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp among others, continues to want to expand.

"My instructions are very clear on this: Heathrow Airport Limited does still wish to construct the Northwest runway," said lawyer David Anderson at the hearing.

By 2030, when the runway could be completed, he said the pandemic would be a "distant memory".

A judgment is expected in early 2021.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Stephen Addison)