Wed | Apr 1, 2020

UK court blocks Heathrow expansion over climate concerns

Published:Friday | February 28, 2020 | 12:16 AM
Campaigners cheer outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday February 27, 2020 after winning a court ruling to block the plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport on environmental grounds.
Campaigners cheer outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Thursday February 27, 2020 after winning a court ruling to block the plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport on environmental grounds.

C ampaigners won a court ruling Thursday to block the plan for a third runway at Heathrow Airport on environmental grounds, setting the stage for a new fight over whether to make Europe’s biggest airport even bigger.

The ruling by the UK’s Court of Appeal could stall the ₤14-billion (US$18-billion) plan to expand the London airport amid concerns about climate change, pollution and noise. The judges ruled that the government did not take into account its commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change in making its decision.

“We won!’’ said an ecstatic London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a long-time opponent of the project.

“Huge’’, Environment Minister and long-time opponent Zac Goldsmith tweeted.

Heathrow Airport said it will appeal to the Supreme Court and says it is “confident that we will be successful”.

Heathrow says a third runway is needed to meet increasing demand for air travel. Parliament approved the plan in 2018, triggering a challenge from environmental groups who say the project conflicts with the United Kingdom’s commitments to fight global warming. Local residents also complain about noise, pollution and increased congestion.

But things have changed since Parliament approved the matter. In particular, Boris Johnson, a long-time opponent of the expansion who once promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers to prevent the runway, is now prime minister.

Less than a few hours after the ruling, Johnson’s spokesman said the government will not appeal, signalling a change of tone in the leadership.

The ruling opens the possibility that he will use the decision to attempt to kill the measure.

The location of a new runway in southeastern England has been debated for years, pitting the economic benefits of greater expansion versus the consequences of all those additional planes at Heathrow, already one of the world’s busiest airports. The issue is so toxic that politicians created an independent commission to weigh the options.

Amid furious public relations battles, the Airports Commission backed Heathrow in 2015, rejecting plans from Gatwick Airport, 30 miles (50 kilometres) south of central London, as well as a proposal to build a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

The Department for Transportation argued the project would permit an additional 260,000 flights a year and give a ₤74-billion (US$99-billion) boost to the British economy over 60 years.

Despite Parliament’s approval, the issue never went away. Environmentalists and local campaigners kept fighting. They were cheered by the court ruling, particularly as the change in the political climate offers greater hope for refusal.

“It surely must be the final nail in the coffin for Heathrow’s attempts to steamroll local and national opposition to their disastrous third runway plans,’’ said Gareth Roberts, the leader of Richmond Council, which is in the flight path. “The expansion of Heathrow would be a catastrophe for our climate and environment, and for the thousands of Londoners who would be forced to live with the huge disruption it will cause.’’

AP