Government Plans For Third Runway In Tatters

High Court orders ministers to go back to the drawing board

The Government’s Heathrow policy is in tatters after the High Court ruled that a ministers' decision to give a green light to the proposed third runway did not hold any weight. The judge dismissed the Government’s claims to the contrary as ‘untenable in law and common sense’.  

If the Government wants to pursue its plans for Heathrow expansion it must now go back to square one and reconsider the entire case for the runway. 

The implications of the ruling are profound, not just for Heathrow but for airport expansion plans across the UK. Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper – the foundation of expansion plans across the country - was obsolete because it was inconsistent with the Climate Change Act 2008. 

The judge expressed real concern over the “hardship caused to the local community by uncertainty” over the third runway. The coalition which brought the successful legal challenge is now calling on the Government to end the uncertainty and scrap the runway plans once and for all. 

The judge ruled that: 

  • If the Government decides to push ahead with the runway project, it must now review the climate change implications of Heathrow expansion, the economic case for a third runway, and the issue of how additional passengers would get to a bigger airport.  
  • The Government’s entire aviation policy must now be reviewed to take into account the implications of the 2008 Climate Change Act. The judge found that “the claimants’ submissions add up, in my view, to a powerful demonstration of the potential significance of developments in climate change policy since the 2003 Air Transport White Paper. They are clearly matters which will need to be taken into account under the new Airports National Policy Statement.” 
  • On the economic case for Heathrow expansion he would be ‘surprised’ if the recent tripling of the estimated cost to society of emitting carbon did not have ‘a significant effect’ on the economic case for the runway. The judge also said that “it makes no sense to treat the economic case as settled in 2003".  
  • On the issue of surface access, he said the claimants’ case – that there is no credible plan in place to transport millions of extra passengers to an expanded Heathrow - was ‘justified’. Significantly, he noted that the Government was “unable to provide a convincing answer” in court when it was pressed about over-crowding on the Piccadilly underground line that would result from construction of a third runway. 

The judge is now inviting the Government to sign a legally binding undertaking that it will not base future aviation policy solely on its 2003 white paper. A further court hearing is expected to take place next month to examine the Government's response to the judge's request. At the same hearing the coalition will seek costs and fully expects to recover those costs from the Government.

The challenge was brought by a coalition of councils including Hammersmith & Fulham.
The councils were joined by the local residents' group NoTRAG, aircraft noise
campaigners HACAN and environmental groups.

Cllr Greg Smith, Hammersmith & Fulham Council Cabinet Member, said:
“This is a spectacular victory for our residents. The Government had been trying to close down
debate on the true economic impact of a third runway by presenting it as a done deal. Today’s ruling has blown that position apart. The Government just did not want to have to take on board the real consequences of new climate change laws. The judge made it clear the figures just did not add up.”

Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter, who resigned from the Government last year to
oppose Heathrow expansion, said:

"I asked the then Transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, to conduct a further review of aviation policy before making the decision on Heathrow but he refused. The Aviation White Paper which purports to justify Heathrow expansion was published seven years ago. That was before climate change became a central plank of Government policy and before the seriousness of global warming was widely accepted.

"The high Court has explicitly said that current aviation policy does not address the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008 and must do so. I believe it will be impossible to square the two and still justify the Third Runway. The Government should now tell BAA to put its plans on hold while a new White paper is commissioned."

The Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith, Shaun Bailey said:
“This ruling is great news for Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush residents who would be very badly affected if the third runway is ever built with a plane overhead every 90 seconds.

“Nevertheless, the only sure-fire way to ensure the Third Runway never happens is to elect a Conservative Government.”

Geraldine Nicholson, Chair of NoTRAG, said:
“As local residents, we now demand that the Government drops all plans for a 3rd runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow so that we can cast off the 8 years of blight and start to rejuvenate our communities.” 

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said:
“This ruling leaves the Government’s Heathrow decision in tatters. Ministers will now have to go back to the drawing board and conduct a broad consultation on key issues where their case is extremely weak. The third runway was already on life support, but with this ruling it’s hard to even find a pulse. This shows that David Cameron and Nick Clegg backed the right horse when they pledged to scrap the third runway, and it makes any Conservative U-turn after the election all but politically impossible.” 

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK, said:
"We are delighted with today’s judgment. It deals a body blow to the third runway, but more than that it makes it clear that the Government's whole policy of airport expansion must be reviewed in order to bring it into line with the Climate Change Act." 

"Today's landmark ruling has implications that could resonate far wider than the aviation sector. For a judge to tell the Government that it cannot build huge pieces of carbon-intensive infrastructure without considering the long-term consequences is a resounding win in the fight to tackle climate change. It is also a further indication of the need for the UK to make a swift transition to a low carbon economy. WWF would now urge the Government to focus on green investment, encouraging alternative ways of connecting with people wherever possible, such as high speed rail and videoconferencing, rather than relying on carbon-heavy methods such as flying.”

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: 
"The Government said there could be no argument about the need for a third runway. This was undemocratic and it was wrong.

"We were forced to bring this legal case to give people the right to challenge the expansion of Heathrow. The High Court has now made clear that a fundamental review of aviation policy is needed. This not just a victory for people living around Heathrow or around other airports, it is a victory for everyone who wants a tranquil countryside and a democratic planning system."

HACAN Chair John Stewart said:
“This is an utterly damming verdict for the Government. It not only raises very serious concerns about a third runway at Heathrow, it also calls into question the Government’s entire aviation policy. This really could be the final nail in the coffin for a third runway.” 

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Head of Sustainable Development, said: 
“Right from the start, we have argued that building a third runway at a time when we are battling to reduce our carbon emissions made no sense. 

“Climate change threatens many species with extinction and we are already seeing its impacts with catastrophic declines in seabird numbers in parts of the North Sea. Concerns about climate change are at the heart of today’s judgment. The clear message from the High Court is that Government must now take those concerns into account.” 

March 26, 2010