The Government has come under renewed fire for permitting controversial developments after a High Court judge upheld its decision to wave through a transformational expansion of Lydd airport in Kent.
The site is next to two areas of substantial environmental interest and importance: Romney Marsh and the Dungeness peninsula. But the airport owner – Sheikh Fahad Al-Athel, the multimillionaire middleman in the £20bn Al-Yamamah arms deal between the Saudis and Britain – was given permission to build a new terminal and extend the runway as part of a £17m project to increase annual passenger numbers to 500,000.
The project will transform a small airfield using light aircraft into a regional hub capable of handling passenger jets such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A319s.
It was given the governmental green light in April 2013 by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, following a public inquiry prompted by the widespread opposition to the project.
A joint legal challenge launched by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Lydd Airport Action Group (LAAG) on the grounds that it would destroy a unique landscape and endanger the nearby Dungeness nuclear power plant was dismissed yesterday by Mr Justice Ouseley.
Acknowledging that the proposed expansion had been described by a planning inspector as being in a “sensitive location”, he nonetheless dismissed the challenge saying that “none of the grounds of the challenge succeed”.
The decision was met with widespread disapproval among environmental campaigners and rival politicians. “This Government is becoming a serial environmental offender,” said Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. “Whether it’s persisting with the white elephant that is HS2 or fracking under Britain’s towns and cities, short-term greed is allowed to trump our long-term national interest.”
Dr Andre Farrar of the RSPB said: “Anyone that loves our countryside and the nature that finds its home there, or wild spaces in our towns and cities, can’t but be worried by the growing tide of proposals for new development driven by the pursuit of growth.”
Lydd airport executive manager Hani Mutlaq said: “The judge has today confirmed what we all knew: there was no legal basis for an appeal against the Government’s decision to back our exciting plans for the redevelopment of Lydd airport.”
A government spokesman said: “We welcome that the High Court has upheld our planning decision which took into account all the relevant issues. The proposed improvements were always supported by the local district council, county council and local MP.