Updates with comments of UK transport minister
A British appeals court said on Thursday (27 February) that a proposed expansion of Heathrow airport is illegal because the planning process was not in keeping with the government’s own climate policies fixed under the Paris Agreement.
Heathrow’s planned €16 billion third runway would bring 700 more planes per day to the UK’s busiest airport, which already counts 80 million passengers every year. The court’s ruling now puts the project in doubt.
Legal charity Plan B submitted the legal challenge against the UK government’s 2018 decision to back a new runway and it is the first major court ruling to take the Paris climate accord into account. It may spur more legal action both in the UK and globally.
Court of Appeals 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.”
He added that the government had seen the ruling in advance but did not take up the option to appeal it at the Supreme Court.
Shortly after the decision was made public, transport minister Grant Schapps tweeted that “airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.”
“This government won’t appeal today’s judgement given our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry led.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was opposed to the expansion when he was London’s mayor and even pledged to “lie down in front of those bulldozers to stop construction”. It is now unclear if his government will scrap the project or tweak its plans.
“This is an opportunity for Boris Johnson to put Heathrow expansion to bed and focus on the most important diplomatic event of his premiership, the UN climate summit in Glasgow in November,” said Lord Randall, a former Conservative MP and government climate adviser.
Current London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that “today’s judgment is a major victory for all Londoners who are passionate about tackling the climate emergency and cleaning up our air”.
Heathrow itself has already announced that it will appeal the ruling, saying in a statement that the airport is “ready to work with the government to fix the issue the court has raised” and pointing out that challenges on air quality and noise pollution were dismissed.
The statement adds that Heathrow has “taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord” and that expansion is necessary to fulfil Johnson’s “Global Britain” ambitions.
Plan B’s Tim Crosland said that “the court ruling is bad news for all businesses and investors in the carbon economy, who will have to factor in the increasing risks of legal challenges”, adding that it is good news for the planet.
According to the European Commission’s economic stocktake on Wednesday, which still includes the UK due to the Brexit transition period, “use of the UK’s road, rail and aviation networks is reaching capacity and this contributes to congestion, rail reliability issues and air pollution”.
The report adds that “public sector investment in transport has increased but the effects of decades of under-investment in infrastructure will take time to address”. The document also warns that major rail schemes have fallen behind schedule and gone over-budget.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]