Legal battle over Heathrow expansion to start at High Court

Controversial plans to expand Heathrow Airport will come under the scrutiny of leading judges as a legal challenge gets under way at the High Court.

A coalition of councils, residents, environmental charities and the mayor of London Sadiq Khan are fighting a legal battle against the Government’s decision to approve the building of a third runway.

The case is being brought against Transport Secretary Chris Grayling by local authorities and residents in London affected by the expansion and charities including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Plan B.

The coalition claims the government’s National Policy Statement (NPS) setting out its support for the project fails to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and congestion.

Chris Grayling
Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling (Ben Birchall/PA)

The claimants will argue the NPS is unlawful and should be quashed, which would mean the Government would have to start the process again and put it to another vote in Parliament.

Demonstrators are expected to gather outside the court on Monday, the first day of a two-week hearing before Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Holgate.

Laura MacKenzie, climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The UK Government claims to be a climate leader yet supports the pending emissions disaster that is the third runway at Heathrow.

“An expanded Heathrow Airport would put seven hundred extra planes a day into our skies, pumping millions of tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere.

“With the impacts of climate chaos already being suffered by millions around the world, we simply cannot allow this to go ahead.”

Support from Labour MPs helped push through the proposals to expand Europe’s busiest airport with an overwhelming majority of 296 in a Commons vote last month.

Mr Grayling said the new runway would set a “clear path to our future as a global nation in the post-Brexit world”.

Construction could begin in 2021, with the third runway operational by 2026.

A spokesman for Mr Khan previously said: “One of the mayor’s top priorities is cleaning up the toxic air in our city which causes thousands of premature deaths every year.

“He is greatly concerned about the impact of a third runway on air quality, noise pollution and also on public transport.”

Tim Crosland, director of Plan B, said: “As recognised by the Mayor of London and numerous councils around the country, we are enveloped in a climate emergency, demanding an urgent and radical change of course.

“Meanwhile, central government ignores the science and continues to subsidise fossil fuels, to develop the fracking industry and to expand aviation as if there were no tomorrow.

“This reckless disregard for the science and for the future must be stopped.”

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The climate minister has admitted we’re in the grip of a climate emergency.

“The environment secretary has declared air pollution one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK.

“So how can ministers justify building a runway that’s bound to make both problems much worse?

“Governments are very happy to talk the talk when it comes to protecting the air we breathe and the climate we all share but, unfortunately, getting them to walk the walk often takes legal action.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman previously said: “Expansion at Heathrow is a critical programme which will provide a boost to the economy, increase our international links and create tens of thousands of new jobs.

“As with any major infrastructure project, we have been anticipating legal challenges and will robustly defend our position.

“Today’s hearing does not impact on the work Heathrow is undertaking on its application for planning consent or the timetable to deliver this much-needed runway.”

A Heathrow spokeswoman previously said: “We are participating in the legal challenges as an interested party given our role as the promoter of this critically important, national project.

“Our work in delivering Britain’s new runway will continue in tandem with this process following overwhelming support in Parliament.

“We remain focused on the work needed for our development consent order submission in 2020 and we are getting on with the delivery of this project which will benefit the whole of the UK.”