Environmentalists begin High Court challenge to Heathrow third runway

Thomas Cook Boeing

Friends of the Earth have begun a High Court challenge to the government’s decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The campaigners say the move is unlawful as it fails to address the UK’s climate change obligations.

The group is questioning the legal basis of the government’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), the policy framework for expansion at Heathrow Airport devised by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which gives the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow.

Lawyers Leigh Day, on behalf of Friends of the Earth (FoE), have filed papers with the High Court asking for the Airports NPS published in June to be quashed.

FoE claims the NPS fails to account for all the impacts on future generations, who will be left with the adverse consequences of growth from aviation-increasing climate impacts.

In the papers filed at the High Court, FoE argues that the government’s Airports NPS is unlawful as it amounts to a breach of the UK’s climate change policy, as well as its sustainable development duties, due to the following:

• it does not explain how it takes account of domestic targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction under the Climate Change Act 2008

• it does not factor in the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C

• it fails to factor in the non-CO2 climate impacts of a third runway, such as the emission of nitrogen oxides, which generate warming effects of a similar magnitude to CO2 emissions

• it does not lawfully and fully consider the likely impact on future generations of a third runway, who will be stranded with the climate-damaging infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth’s director of campaigns Liz Hutchins said: “The government’s airports strategy completely ignores its obligations to tackle climate change – this is short-sighted, incredibly reckless and we believe it is unlawful.

“Allowing the aviation industry to pump more pollution into the atmosphere will make it far harder to prevent catastrophic climate change – and leaves future generations to suffer the consequences.

“It’s time to end our reliance on the fossil fuels that are already roasting our planet and threatening peoples’ lives, homes and livelihoods.”

Rowan Smith from the public law team at Leigh Day said: “The government has a legal duty to take into account climate change policy and the Paris agreement it has committed to with the global community, the Airports National Policy Statement does not adequately consider those factors and we therefore will argue that it is unlawful.”

A decision on whether there will be a full hearing about these issues is expected to be made this Autumn.

Useful links

Airports National Policy Statement
Government sets out next steps for Heathrow expansion