Friends of the Earth wins campaign to protect the climate from Heathrow third runway
The Court of Appeal has today ruled that the government's decision to expand Heathrow Airport is unlawful.
Posted on 27 February 2020
“This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.” Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth said.
The government’s decision to expand Heathrow Airport has been ruled “unlawful” by the Court of Appeal, on climate change grounds, in one of the most important environmental law cases in this country for over a generation. This follows a successful legal challenge by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, represented by law firm Leigh Day, in a victory for local campaigners who have been battling against the third runway for years.
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, added:
“We are delighted with The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which goes to show the massive importance of the legal system to check the clear abuse of state power by government, such as in this case.
“Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go ahead. The Court has said very clearly that was illegal.
“This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions. It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”
Jenny Bates, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:
“The UK government must take this ruling as an opportunity to play its full part in fixing the international climate crisis, especially in the year that it hosts crucial climate talks in Glasgow. This means finally moving on from the climate-wrecking Heathrow third runway project and ensuring the UK aviation sector actually cuts its climate emissions, rather than adding to them.
“The Court has specifically recognised how the climate crisis needs to be at the heart of major infrastructure decisions. It’s time that the government catches up with this fact and stops pursuing its outdated climate wrecking transport projects – such as major new roads and airport expansion at Heathrow or elsewhere, and instead gives us the clean transport network we need.”
Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, said:
“What is emphatically clear in this judgment is that the Court of Appeal concluded that there was absolutely no legal means by which the Government could ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, and that such an omission was a fatal flaw to the lawfulness of the policy to greenlight a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The Lord Justices simply followed the legal framework set by Parliament, citing as they did their fundamental function to maintain the rule of law, and found that the Paris Agreement was so obviously material to a decision on Heathrow Airport expansion that the Secretary of State was legally bound to consider it. The Government must now go back to the drawing board and come up with a new policy, which lawfully fulfils its sustainable development duties and protects future generations.”
In its historic ruling, the designation of the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was found unlawful by the Lord Justices of appeal. In their judgment, the Secretary of State for Transport (at the time Chris Grayling) had breached s10 of the Planning Act 2008, and acted irrationally, by disregarding the Paris Agreement, the non-CO2 warming impacts of aviation, and the effects of climate change beyond 2050, when making the ANPS to expand Heathrow. He also breached his duty to undertake a lawful strategic environmental assessment in accordance with the requirements of the SEA Directive and the SEA Regulations.
The Court ruled that this case was one of “exceptional public interest”, noting that “the issue of climate change is a matter of profound national and international importance of great concern to the public – and, indeed, to the Government of the United Kingdom and many other national governments, as is demonstrated by their commitment to the Paris Agreement.”
Previous polling* for Friends of the Earth found 64% of people, after being told the potential benefits and negatives, are concerned about the climate impact of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The same survey found that only 1 in 4 people support the plans for a third runway.