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Heathrow Third Runway: Legal victory to be defended in Supreme Court

The Friends of the Earth victory in the battle against a third runway at Heathrow Airport will be defended in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, October 7.

Posted on 07 October 2020

Following the environmental campaigners’ triumph in the Court of Appeal earlier this year, Heathrow Airport Limited has appealed to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch bid to rescue its plan for the runway.

Lawyers for Friends of the Earth will argue that Court of Appeal judges were right to rule that the Government’s decision to give the runway the go-ahead in the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was unlawful. 

They ruled that the Government could not ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, which requires the UK to sharply and quickly reduce its investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Judges said the Secretary of State for Transport (then 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. 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.

Following the judgment, the Government and Arora Holdings decided not to pursue their legal case any further, but Heathrow Airport Limited pressed on and was granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Friends of the Earth is represented by Leigh Day solicitors and barristers David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers, Peter Lockley of 11 Kings Bench Walk Chambers and Andrew Parkinson of Landmark Chambers.
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Without the government in the picture, this case has become one about business interests versus the wellbeing of people everywhere facing the impact of the climate crisis.

“The Court of Appeal rightly ruled against the expansion of Heathrow, and we’re now here to defend our historic win for the planet. The government accepted illegal advice to ignore the Paris Climate Agreement when making the initial decision to approve the third runway. Heathrow is now trying to completely ignore this fact with its appeal.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court will now make an authoritative ruling and remain confident the court will re-affirm that the Paris Agreement cannot be ignored, and all the damaging climate impacts ofHeathrow expansion must be fully considered in any decision over expansion.”
Jenny Bates, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“As we plan for a future in the wake of the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic, it’s key that the UK invests in low-carbon, resilient infrastructure and creates green jobs in sectors such as clean transport, renewable energy and home insulation. A new runway at Heathrow is the opposite of what we need to be building. It would lead to a huge increase in emissions and undermine the UK’s duty to fight the climate crisis.

“Heathrow has talked up easy fixes to get the Third Runway pushed through, but these fixes rely on undeveloped technology, and ineffective carbon offsetting to make their plans appear more climate friendly.”
Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at Leigh Day, said:

“We trust that the Supreme Court will agree with the Court of Appeal when it concluded that there was absolutely no legal means by which the Government could ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement

“They made it clear that such an omission fatally undermined the lawfulness of the policy to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport. 

“The Lord Justices simply followed the legal framework set by Parliament and found that the Secretary of State was legally bound to consider the Paris Agreement which was so obviously material to a decision on Heathrow Airport expansion.”

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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Leigh Day specialises in environmental work, acting on behalf of individuals, concerned local groups, charities and NGOs. Learn how our expert team can help you with claims around environment law.

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