Campaigners urged not to delay Heathrow expansion, but vow to continue fight

Chris Grayling has urged campaigners not to delay “vital” Heathrow expansion after High Court judges rejected a joint legal challenge against plans for a third runway.

The court dismissed four separate judicial reviews of the Government’s decision to approve the plans, brought by a group of councils, residents, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and environmental charities including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Plan B, on Wednesday.

In a statement after the ruling, the transport secretary said the project is “vital” and will provide a “massive economic boost” to the UK.

But a number of those involved in the challenge vowed to fight on and continue their opposition to the development.

Proposed new Heathrow runway
Proposed new Heathrow runway

Mr Grayling said: “The expansion of Heathrow is vital and will provide a massive economic boost to businesses and communities across the length and breadth of Britain, all at no cost to the taxpayer and within our environmental obligations.

“I welcome the court’s judgment today. It makes clear we followed a robust and legally sound process throughout.

“I now call on all public bodies not to waste any more taxpayers’ money or seek to further delay this vital project which will benefit every corner of the United Kingdom.”

However, Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said the charity plans to appeal the ruling, and other campaigners said they would continue to fight the expansion.

Mr Bennett said: “Expanding Heathrow is wrong on every level and we can’t let it go.

“I could not sleep at night if Friends of the Earth did not challenge this decision. We are going to appeal because we believe the court got it wrong.

“We are in an ecological and climate emergency and Parliament have supported an outdated decision to chase climate-wrecking development.

“How can we take any government remotely seriously when they claim to care about climate chaos while supporting this runway?

“We are going to continue this fight because it’s about more than a runway, it is actually about a future fit for our children.”

Heathrow Airport expansion
Heathrow Airport expansion

During a two-week hearing in March, campaigners argued the expansion would effectively create a “new airport” with the capacity of Gatwick and have “severe” consequences for Londoners.

They claimed the Government’s National Policy Statement (NPS), setting out its support for the project, failed to properly deal with the impact on air quality, climate change, noise and congestion.

But their cases were dismissed by two leading judges, who found the NPS was not unlawful.

Lord Justice Hickinbottom, sitting with Mr Justice Holgate, said in the ruling: “We understand that these claims involve underlying issues upon which the parties – and indeed many members of the public – hold strong and sincere views.

“There was a tendency for the substance of the parties’ positions to take more of a centre stage than perhaps it should have done, in a hearing that was only concerned with the legality, and not the merits, of the Airports National Policy Statement.”

The judges also rejected a fifth case, brought by the promoters of an alternative scheme to increase capacity at Heathrow.

Heathrow is the busiest two-runway airport in the world and is currently full to capacity.

Lord Justice Hickinbottom said that the possibility of adding a third runway, and other options to increase airport capacity in the South East, have been under consideration since the 1980s.

Heathrow: options for new runway
Heathrow: options for new runway

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 in June last year.

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

The next stage of the planning process is a development consent order (DCO), at which point interested parties can make representations relating to the impact of the plans.

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

A Heathrow spokesman said: “We are delighted with today’s ruling which is a further demonstration that the debate on Heathrow expansion has been had and won, not only in Parliament, but in the courts also.

“We are getting on with delivering the once-in-a-generation project that will connect Britain to global growth, providing thousands of new jobs and an economic boost for this country and its future generations.”