The expansion of Heathrow airport has been ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal in a victory for climate campaigners fighting to block controversial plans for a third runway.
Judges concluded the government’s decision to permit the expansion of the UK’s busiest airport was illegal because ministers did not take into account the impact on the country’s commitment to tackle global warming.
Heathrow will be challenging Thursday’s ruling, but the government has said that it would not appeal.
Legal action had been brought by a group of councils in London affected by the expansion, environmental charities including Greenpeace, Friends Of The Earth and Plan B, and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Lords Justice Lindblom, Singh and Haddon-Cave ruled the government did not take enough account of its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change when setting out its support for the proposals in its National Policy Statement (NPS).
The UN’s Paris Agreement, which came into force in November 2016, commits signatories to take measures to limit global warming to well below 2C.
Lord Justice Lindblom told the court: “The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State in the preparation of the NPS and an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the ruling was “a victory for Londoners and future generations”.
“A new runway at Heathrow would have serious consequences on climate change, on air quality, on noise pollution, on road and rail networks and on the quality of life in our city. The government must now finally see sense and abandon plans for a third runway at Heathrow,” he added.
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said: “This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.”
Cait Hewitt, deputy director of Aviation Environment Federation, added: “It’s very hard to see how the government could now ever demonstrate that a third runway could be reconciled with the necessary scale of climate action.
“This ruling should mark the end of plans for any new runways in the UK. The government should stand up to the airports lobby, drop its support for airport expansion, and invest instead in low-carbon transport and supporting British tourism.”
The ruling came as a blow to the UK airline industry.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered airlines, said: “Today’s decision is extremely disappointing. The Sir Howard Davies Airports Commission spent several years looking at airport capacity in the South East and was clear Heathrow is the only game in town, with other schemes being considered and ultimately rejected.
“The economic prize is enormous if expansion is done right, with airlines ready to respond to the unlocking of new capacity by creating new routes and helping to connect the UK to new markets and destinations, and Heathrow to regions across the country. UK aviation has committed to net zero carbon by 2050 and this factors in the emissions created by Heathrow expansion. It is not a question of being pro-aviation or pro-environment.”
However, Heathrow Airport has said that the ruling does not prevent the expansion from moving ahead and that it will be challenging the ruling.
A spokesperson said: “The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the government – including on “noise” and “air quality” – apart from one which is eminently fixable. We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful.
“In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.”
They added: “Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord. Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”
The ruling was announced on Thursday morning following a hearing in October last year.
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