Residents lose 'fight the flights' court battle

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The Independent Online

Local residents have lost their High Court battle to block an "extremely large" increase in the number of flights proposed for London City Airport.

Two judges rejected accusations that the key decision by Newham Council to permit the increase in the number of take-offs and landings was so legally flawed that it must be quashed.

Members of the "Fight the Flights" campaign group argued noise pollution levels at the airport are already almost unbearable, and the extremely large flight increases would make them intolerable.

They accused Newham Council of "erring in law" by failing to take into account a "fundamental change" in Government policy on aviation policy and climate change.

They also said the council had erred by failing to consult the neighbouring London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Redbridge, or the residents of those boroughs.

But today Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Roderick Evans, sitting in London, rejected both accusations and dismissed the legal challenge.

London City released an economic impact assessment showing the alleged benefits of increasing the number of flights to 120,000 a year, pointing out the airport contributed more than £500 million per annum to the economy.

Anne-Marie Griffin, chairwoman of Fight the Flights, who lives at Thamesmead, south-east London, was given 14 days to apply for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal against today's ruling.

Nathalie Lieven QC, representing Ms Griffin, had told the High Court judges at a hearing last November: "There is no doubt there will be a significant impact on people living around the airport, particularly in terms of noise."

The effect of Newham Council varying planning permission was to allow an increase of flights of up to approximately 100% on any particular day, and about 60% annually.

In broad terms, the number of flights from the airport, which was in a densely-populated part of London, would increase from between 70,000 and 80,000 to 120,000 each year, said the QC.

Ms Lieven submitted that, in January 2009, the then transport secretary Geoff Hoon made a Parliamentary statement outlining a fundamental change in Government policy towards aviation and climate change.

Mr Hoon announced a new target to get UK aviation emissions in 2050 below 2005 levels, but no account was taken of that change by Newham Council when, in July 2009, it allowed the London City flight increases.

Rejecting Ms Lieven's submissions, Lord Justice Pill today ruled: "Read as a whole, the statements made and the documents issued between December 2008 and July 2009 do not demonstrate a change of planning policy relevant to the decision to be made by the council in July 2009".

The judge said Mr Hoon's statement of January 15 2009 "neither expressly nor by implication created a limit on increased capacity at existing smaller airports in the South East such as London City".

Mr Hoon had requested advice on policy from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) - "and it was not for the Council to work out a new policy in the meantime".

The judge also ruled Fight the Flights had "fallen far short of establishing that the decision not to consult Waltham Forest or Redbridge was irrational".

Later Darren Johnson, a London Assembly Green Party member, said: "I am extremely disappointed that the court did not support the residents' challenge to the disastrous decision to expand London City Airport.

"People living next to the airport, and across East London, were let down by Newham Council and the Mayor of London allowing it to go ahead.

"Local people and environmental groups had overwhelming arguments against expansion, as the pollution, noise and health impacts are far too high a price for more flights."

Ms Griffin said after today's ruling: "We are desperately disappointed by this judgment.

"London City Airport already causes major disturbance and pollution for people living locally - the disappointment we feel at this outcome will be shared by thousands of residents across East London who are severely affected by London City Airport's operations but were not consulted about expansion.

"Without clear guidelines to local councils on aviation expansion, the emissions targets set have no hope of being met.

"Fight the Flights is currently taking legal advice as to whether to appeal."

The residents' group was backed by Friends of the Earth's rights and justice centre.

FoE's London campaigner Jenny Bates said: "Airport expansion will have a terrible impact on local people's quality of life, as well as increase air pollution breaches and undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

"Many of the destinations served by London City Airport could easily be reached by fast rail travel.

"If this Government wants to keep its pledge to be the greenest ever it must develop a transport strategy which encourages people to use greener forms of transport over climate-wrecking flights."