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Councils and mayor prepare new Heathrow legal challenge


Andrew Forster
06 July 2018

Opponents of Heathrow Airport expansion are preparing a legal challenge to the Government’s airports National Policy Statement (NPS), which was approved last week by a huge majority in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 415 to 119 to approve the NPS, making the provision of a Heathrow third runway and associated works Government policy. 

Tory MPs were under orders to support the Government but eight voted against, including former cabinet ministers Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who also opposes expansion, was in Afghanistan when the vote took place.

Labour’s official position was to oppose expansion, but its MPs were given a free vote. A majority – 119 – supported the NPS, while 96 voted against.The Liberal Democrats opposed the expansion and the SNP abstained.

The vote opens the way for Heathrow Airport Ltd to submit an application for development consent to the Planning Inspectorate, with the final decision on expansion resting with the transport secretary.

An application for a judicial review of the NPS is, however, expected to be made in the coming weeks by five councils – the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, and Hammersmith & Fulham and the unitary authority of Windsor and Maidenhead – plus environmental campaign group Greenpeace, and London mayor Sadiq Khan. Councils previously challenged the draft NPS. 

Khan’s office said a second runway at Gatwick would require less surface transport investment, and provide London and the rest of the UK with all the economic benefits of expansion, while not presenting a problem for air quality limit values. 

The DfT released numerous reports and items of correspondence about the airport expansion plans ahead of the Commons vote. The affordability of the third runway plan and associated surface access issues are discussed in correspondence between the DfT’s permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly and Richard Moriarty, the Civil Aviation Authority’s new chief executive and its former director of consumer and markets group. 

In April, Moriarty said: “Our initial assessment suggests that there are credible scenarios in which capacity expansion can be delivered affordably and financeably, with airport charges per passenger remaining close to current levels in real terms and in line with the ambition expressed by the Secretary of State on these matters in 2016.”

On surface access improvements, Kelly told Moriarty last month: “The Government expects the  applicant for development consent to secure a package of measures that adequately mitigates the impacts of expansion. With regard to these measures, Government is clear that works to the M25 form part of the expansion project and should not be considered in the same way as other surface access schemes.

“Surface access schemes may become necessary to accommodate future growth at the airport. The Government will consider a public funding contribution for such schemes where there are shared beneficiaries, commensurate with the benefits received by non-airport users.” 

To ensure the whole of the UK benefits from expansion, the Government has committed to about 15 per cent of new slots being reserved for domestic routes. 

Ahead of the vote, Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling expressing surprise that he had made no mention of the Climate Change Act, nor of the Paris Agreement to limit the rise in global temperature to below 2°C, when presenting the airports NPS to Parliament in early June. 

Deben added: “The Committee  does not have a view on the location of airport capacity, as long as total UK aviation emissions are compatible with meeting the 2050 climate objectives. Our analysis has illustrated how an 80 per cent economy-wide reduction in emissions could be achieved with aviation emissions at 2005 levels in 2050.

“Relative to 1990 levels this is a doubling of [aviation] emissions, and an increase in its share of total emissions from 2 per cent to around 25 per cent. We estimate that this would allow for around 60 per cent growth in aviation demand, dependent on the delivery of technological and operational improvements and some use of sustainable biofuels.

“Aviation emissions at 2005 levels in 2050 means other sectors must reduce emissions by more than 80 per cent, and in many cases will likely need to reach zero. Higher levels of aviation emissions in 2050 must not be planned for, since this would place an unreasonably large burden on other sectors.” 

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