Climate groups reacted joyously this morning after the Court of Appeal upheld their challenge to the planned third runway expansion of Heathrow Airport.
However, business groups expressed their “bitter disappointment” at the decision.
In a seismic decision for environmental campaigners, the court found that the government’s policy statement for the third runway was “unlawful” as it did not take into account the government’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, a challenge brought by Friends of the Earth and Plan B.
The presiding judge found that the policy statement written by the Department for Transport (DfT) “did not take account of government policy relating to the mitigation of and the adaption to climate change”.
“We have concluded in particular the designation of the [policy statement] was unlawful by reason to failing to take into account the government’s commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change,” he said.
The DfT will now have to re-write the policy statement.
A spokesperson for the airport confirmed that Heathrow would appeal the decision, saying the problem was “eminently fixable”:
“We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful. In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.
“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.
“Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”
Friends of the Earth:
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, one of the co-complainants, said: “This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.”
“We are delighted with The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which goes to show the massive importance of the legal system to check the clear abuse of state power by government, such as in this case.
“Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go-ahead. The Court has said very clearly that was illegal.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London:
London’s mayor Siddiq Khan, who was instrumental to the challenge, hailed the result:
“Today’s landmark Heathrow judgment is a victory for Londoners and future generations. We face a climate emergency and I’m delighted that the Court of Appeal has recognised that the Government cannot ignore its climate change responsibilities.
“A new runway at Heathrow would have serious consequences on climate change, on air quality, on noise pollution, on road and rail networks and on the quality of life in our city.
“The government must now finally see sense and abandon plans for a third runway at Heathrow”.
British Chambers of Commerce:
Business group the British Chambers of Commerce said that “without expansion, firms risk losing crucial access to key markets around the world”. Director Adam Marshall said:
“Business communities across the UK will be bitterly disappointed that plans for a world-leading hub airport are now at risk.
“Without expansion, firms risk losing crucial regional connectivity and access to key markets across the world.
“The benefits of a third runway would extend far beyond south-east England. Hundreds of UK companies are already invested in the supply chain for expansion, and tens of thousands of additional jobs will be created if the project goes ahead.
“There has never been a more important time to demonstrate that Britain is open for business. The government must back Heathrow expansion unequivocally and take all necessary steps to finally move the project forward.”
No 3rd Runway Coalition:
Paul McGuinness, chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said:
“Clearly the courts have found an irredeemably large hole in the Government’s airports national policy statement which will now have to be withdrawn.
“But this only scratches the surface – the errors of assessment behind the policy are perforated with mistakes on noise, air quality and several other major issues.
“And with both the Committee on Climate Change and economists suggesting that Heathrow expansion would have been an assault on the regions, the project is no longer politically acceptable either.”
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, said: “The ruling is disappointing, but it is still reassuring that the Court of Appeal has not vetoed Heathrow expansion from going forward.
“It is now vital that the government acts quickly to work with Heathrow on a swift solution, to ensure that this vital project is not delayed any further. Failure to do so now will risk the UK falling behind EU competitors and flies in the face of the government’s determination to make the country a great global trading nation after Brexit.”
The City UK:
Chief executive of The City UK, a London-based advocacy group, said:
“Ongoing uncertainty over the UK’s airport capacity is a blow to any serious vision of a ‘global Britain’. Building an integrated world class infrastructure network is vital to the UK’s international success and to boosting economic growth and jobs across the whole country.
“The UK seems stuck in the international infrastructure slow lane. We shouldn’t be surprised if it means that we get overtaken by our competitors.”
Aviation Environment Federation:
Aviation Environment Federation deputy director Cait Hewitt said:
“This is a huge win for the climate, and leaves Heathrow’s third runway plans in tatters. In presenting plans for a third runway to MPs, the Government failed, the court has found, to assess whether this was compatible with the Paris Agreement.
The project would increase emissions at the UK’s biggest airport, and the UK has since legislated to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, so it’s very hard to see how the Government could now ever demonstrate that a third runway could be reconciled with the necessary scale of climate action.
“This ruling should mark the end of plans for any new runways in the UK”.
London Chamber of Commerce:
The boss of industry body the London Chamber of Commerce said that the government’s global ambitions “were dependent on world-class connectivity”:
Richard Burge said: “That will require a UK hub airport, linked to the existing transport network. It’s hard to see where else is better positioned to deliver that than Heathrow”.
GMB, the union for airport workers, said it was disappointed by the decision. Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, said:
“GMB is disappointed by today’s court ruling. Heathrow expansion is a complicated issue, but we have consistently backed it because the benefits more than outweigh any risks.
“Expansion would protect the existing 80,000 jobs, create a further 114,000 – as well as 10,000 apprenticeships.
“Like everyone else, GMB members are very worried about climate change, but we would have held Heathrow Airport Ltd’s feet to the fire on their target for zero carbon by the mid-2030s.
“The Government must now come up with a proper aviation strategy for the UK – and unions must be front and centre in those discussions.”