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Airport wins right to challenge court ruling


15 May 2020

Heathrow Airport’s owners have been granted permission to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Government’s support for a third runway plan was unlawful because it failed to consider the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Heathrow Airport Limited and Arora Holdings, which have separate plans to expand the airport, have been granted permission to challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court.  

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the secretary of state had “acted unlawfully in failing to take into account the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change when deciding to designate the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) in support of the expansion of Heathrow Airport” (LTT 06 Mar). The case had been brought by Friends of the Earth.

The Court did not rule against a third runway but instead invited the Government to reconsider and amend the NPS to take account of the Paris Agreement. Any review  will now also have to consider the Government’s net zero legislation on greenhouse gases that became law last summer. 

The Government is not challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision. Anti-Heathrow expansion campaign group Hacan said it was “widely assumed” that the Prime Minister Boris Johnston, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow, would amend the NPS to “kill-off a third runway”.

Reflecting on the permission to challenge the appeal court ruling, Hacan chair John Stewart said: “The surprise would have been if an appeal on an issue as big as this had not been allowed.  What it does not mean is that the third runway is back on track.  Heathrow remains very much on its own as the Government is not backing its appeal.

“If Heathrow wins it will be able to resume drawing up its plans for a third runway to be presented to a public inquiry, probably within the next two years.  The Government, though, would have the final say as it would need to endorse or overrule the recommendation of the planning inspectors.”

Rowan Smith, a solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day that represents Friends of the Earth, 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.”

Dates for the Supreme Court are still to be confirmed.

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