Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change [The Guardian, 27/02/20]
Cover image: Munira Wilson and Sarah Olney, the MPs for Twickenham and Richmond Park, cheer alongisde other campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the ruling. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal by the court of appeal because ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis.
The ruling is a major blow to the project at a time when public concern about the climate emergency is rising fast and the government has set a target in law of net zero emissions by 2050. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, could use the ruling to abandon the project, or the government could draw up a new policy document to approve the runway.
The government is considering its next steps but will not appeal against the verdict. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry-led. Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity and levelling up across the UK. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.”
Johnson has opposed the runway, saying in 2015 that he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction”. Heathrow is already one the busiest airports in the world, with 80 million passengers a year. The £14bn third runway could be built by 2028 and would bring 700 more planes per day and a big rise in carbon emissions.
Johnson is thought to have been looking for a pretext to withdraw support for the extra runway and could make the argument for Birmingham to provide increased airpot capacity for London given that train journey times will be reduced by HS2.
The court’s ruling is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris climate agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high-carbon projects.
Lord Justice Lindblom said: “The Paris agreement ought to have been taken into account by the secretary of state. The national planning statement was not produced as the law requires.”