Legal challenges against Heathrow expansion filed in High Court over environmental and climate concerns
Tue 14 Aug 2018 – Lawyers acting for a consortium of local authorities have issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court against the UK’s Transport Secretary over the expansion of Heathrow Airport. The five councils claim the government’s Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), which sets out support for the project to add a third runway, fails to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and surface access, and was a flawed consultation process. The challenge is also supported by the Mayor of London and Greenpeace. Lawyers acting for another environmental campaign group, Friends of the Earth (FoE), have also started formal legal action at the High Court on the basis that allowing the building of a new runway is unlawful as it fails to address the UK’s climate change obligations.
“The government’s airports strategy completely ignores its obligations to tackle climate change – this is short-sighted, incredibly reckless and we believe it is unlawful,” said FoE Director of Campaigns Liz Hutchins. “Allowing the aviation industry to pump more pollution into the atmosphere will make it far harder to prevent catastrophic climate change, and leaves future generations to suffer the consequences.”
Lawyers Leigh Day, which filed papers on behalf of Friends of the Earth with the High Court last week, argue the government’s NPS:
Does not explain how it takes account of domestic targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction under the Climate Change Act 2008;
Does not factor in the Paris Agreement’s global warming limits;
Fails to factor in the non-CO2 climate impacts of a third runway; and
Does not lawfully and fully consider the likely impact on future generations of a third runway, who will be stranded with the climate-damaging infrastructure.
“Our client believes that the expansion of Heathrow Airport will jeopardise the UK’s ability to make the very deep reductions in GHGs that will be necessary to prevent global warming from causing catastrophic, irreversible impacts for the environment and future generations,” commented Rowan Smith from Leigh Day’s public law team. “In no sensible terms can this be described as sustainable development, when the additional costs of carbon offsetting and the global warming potential of non-CO2 emissions from aviation do not feature in the government’s plans.
“The government has a legal duty to take into account climate change policy and the Paris Agreement it has committed to with the global community. The NPS does not adequately consider those factors and we therefore will argue that it is unlawful.”
FoE said it expected a decision in the autumn on whether there will be a full hearing.
Hillingdon Council is one of the local authorities likely to be impacted by air traffic from the proposed new northwest runway.
“The abject failure to address the far reaching consequences for both the environment and the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of residents across London is simply not acceptable,” said its Leader, Councillor Ray Puddifoot. “This council is not prepared to stand back and allow this to happen without submitting the many flaws in this project to the rigorous scrutiny of the High Court and beyond, if necessary.
“I have confidence in the judicial process and am hopeful that, as with the previous judicial review challenge which was heard back in 2010, the court will expose the many failings of this ill-thought-through project.”
A third legal challenge has been made in papers filed at the High Court by the independent Heathrow Hub, which unsuccessfully proposed expanding Heathrow capacity by extending the existing northern runway to make two runways. It too states the government process was flawed. As a result, it argues the Transport Secretary “has selected the most expensive, complex, disruptive expansion plan which, among other things, is believed will cause a substantial rise in fees for passengers and airlines.”
In June, the government won support for the building of a new Heathrow runway when MPs voted 415-119 in favour of the plan. It is expected to lay out how air traffic growth at Heathrow can be achieved within environmental constraints in its Aviation Strategy to be published in early 2019.
The proposed third runway would allow an increase from the current 480,000 take-offs and landings each year to around 740,000, with passenger capacity rising from around 78 million last year to 130 million. Depending on the outcome of the judicial review process and final planning consent, construction of the runway could begin in 2021 and be operational by 2026. According to Heathrow Airport, expansion would provide up to £187 billion ($238bn) in economic growth benefits to the UK, create up to 180,000 jobs across the UK and add new routes.