Heathrow Third Runway: Friends of the Earth to challenge developers’ Supreme Court appeal

“It is especially important now, as we plan for a future after the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic, that the UK invests in low-carbon, resilient infrastructure. A new runway at Heathrow is the opposite of what we need to be building.”
  Published:  07 May 2020    |      4 minute read
  • Heathrow Airport Limited and Arora Holdings granted permission to appeal at Supreme Court
  • Friends of the Earth won historic court case as Court of Appeal in February 2020, protecting future generations from planet-wrecking third runway plans
  • Court dates at Supreme Court are TBC
  • Greenpeace and London Mayor appeal case dismissed

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The Court of Appeal ruled against the government’s decision to expand Heathrow, and we think that was entirely right. The Paris Agreement should have been taken into account when considering Heathrow expansion, along with all of the damaging climate impacts, and it was unlawful not to.

“We’ll resist the appeal brought by Heathrow Airport and the Developer Arora Holdings, in the Supreme Court. Climate change must be front and centre in all planning and infrastructure decisions, and it is irresponsible for them to try and avoid the Court of Appeal’s verdict against them on climate change by this appeal.

“It’s time for developers and public authorities to be fully held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging projects. It is a threat to the planet for Heathrow Airport to build a third runway during a climate crisis, and where government has not lawfully or fully considered the climate change issues raised in our case.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court will now make an authoritative and determinative ruling on these matters and feel confident they will affirm that the Paris Agreement and all the damaging climate impacts in Heathrow expansion must be fully considered.”

Earlier this year the government’s decision to expand Heathrow Airport was ruled ‘unlawful’ by the Court of Appeal, on climate change grounds, in one of the most important environmental law cases in this country for over a generation. This followed a successful legal challenge by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, represented by Leigh Day, in a victory for local campaigners who have been battling against the third runway for years. Plan B also brought a successful legal challenge, and will be challenging this appeal.

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Jenny Bates, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Heathrow bosses talk about easy fixes to get the Third Runway pushed through but the process for expansion is as far from easy as you can get. They’re trying to make their plans more climate friendly by talking about undeveloped technology, and ineffective carbon offsetting.

“It is especially important now, as we plan for a future after the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic, that the UK invests in low-carbon, resilient infrastructure. A new runway at Heathrow is the opposite of what we need to be building.

“To meet the legally binding Paris Climate Agreement flights will need to be cut, not given a boost of hundreds of extra flights a day, as a third runway would allow.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

““While our clients are disappointed to have to bring their case to court again they hope that the Supreme Court will agree that the government’s decision on the third runway at Heathrow was unlawful and will rule on this once and for all. During the current coronavirus situation questions are being raised about how society can work differently, including reducing air travel. The urgency to tackle climate change remains while the demand on air travel may well be permanently reduced following this pandemic.”

In its historic ruling (in February 2020) the designation of the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was found unlawful by the Lord Justices of appeal. In their judgment, the Secretary of State for Transport (at the time Chris Grayling) had breached s10 of the Planning Act 2008, and acted irrationally, by disregarding the Paris Agreement, the non-CO2 warming impacts of aviation, and the effects of climate change beyond 2050, when making the ANPS to expand Heathrow. He also breached his duty to undertake a lawful strategic environmental assessment in accordance with the requirements of the SEA Directive and the SEA Regulations.

The Court ruled that the case was one of ‘exceptional public interest’, noting that ‘the issue of climate change is a matter of profound national and international importance of great concern to the public – and, indeed, to the Government of the United Kingdom and many other national governments, as is demonstrated by their commitment to the Paris Agreement.’

Previous polling* for Friends of the Earth found 64% of people, after being told the potential benefits and negatives, are concerned about the climate impact of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The same survey found that only 1 in 4 people support the plans for a third runway.

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