Heathrow’s third runway plans ruled illegal on environmental grounds

Feb 27, 2020

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Wednesday was a landmark day in the decision making process surround the highly contentious Heathrow Airport third runway expansion.

Campaigners won their court appeal as the expansion of Heathrow by way of a third runway has been ruled as illegal on grounds of failing to meet the government’s climate change policy. The proposed expansion is deemed not compliant with the Paris Agreement and keeping the increase of the earth’s temperature at less than two degrees.

The challenge was initiated by a number of parties including environmental groups, local councils and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Map of proposed Heathrow expansion (Photo courtesy Heathrow Airport Expansion Consultation/BBC)


One of the main opponents of the third runway project, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, expressed delight at today’s decision, stating: “Today’s landmark Heathrow judgement is a victory for Londoners and future generations”.

Climate change is the main reason why many opposing parties are rejoicing over the ruling. Leader of Hillingdon Council — where the proposed runway would be built — said that: “The current Government has a firm commitment to dealing positively with climate change issues and to equalising economic growth across the country and given that Heathrow expansion would damage both, I am pleased that the Government has decided not to appeal the court’s decision.”

Not all parties share in the joy of today’s outcome, including Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, who argues that the third runway proposal at Heathrow does in fact adhere to plans to control emissions. He opened his statement with: “Today’s decision is extremely disappointing” and continued by saying “UK aviation has committed to net zero carbon by 2050 and this factors into the emissions created by Heathrow expansion”.

What’s next?

Heathrow and other major parties backing the project are not expected to go down without a fight. A spokeswoman for Heathrow commented that there will be appeal against the decision on the grounds that “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”.

There are hopes that Wednesday’s decision may be positive in that it will pave the way for a new aviation strategy for the U.K: Nadine Houghton, national officer of the GMB said: “The Government must now come up with a proper aviation strategy for the UK — and unions must be front and centre in those discussions.” — 

For the time being, residents living close to Heathrow — and more importantly those living in the proposed third runway zone — can rest easy in knowing that for at least the near future, this setback means their lives will not be affected by an increase in noise and pollution from Heathrow Airport. Time will only tell as to whether an expansion decision can be reached that will both benefit businesses and the U.K. economy, without compromising substantially the quality of life of those living near Heathrow and the expansion site and more crucially, stay within the latest guidelines to curb emissions.

Featured image by Amer Ghazzal/Getty Images 

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