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Judicial review of decision to allow Southampton Airport runway extension

A judicial review hearing into the decision to allow a runway extension at Southampton International Airport will begin on Wednesday 27 April, 2022.

Posted on 25 April 2022

During the two-day High Court hearing at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, it will be argued by lawyers acting for residents’ group GOESA Ltd that Eastleigh Borough Council acted unlawfully when it granted permission for the 164-metre development to the north of the existing runway in June 2021, while residents were waiting for the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to decide whether to hold a public inquiry on the plan.

The application to extend the runway was submitted in October 2019. It required an Environmental Statement, submitted by Southampton International Airport in September 2019 and updated in January 2021.

Following four rounds of public consultation, in April 2021 an extraordinary meeting of the full council agreed to grant planning permission, but posted a statement on its website that the permission would not be issued until a Section 106 Legal Agreement had been completed.

Afterwards, GOESA Ltd wrote to the Communities Secretary to ask for the decision to be called in, and the council agreed to not issue a planning permission decision until the Secretary of State had assessed the case and confirmed this agreement in its website statement.

In April 2021, the Government told the Committee on Climate Change it would accept its recommendation to include emissions from international aviation in its sixth Carbon Budget, requiring the emissions to be cut by 78 per cent on 1990 levels by 2035.
However, on 3 June the council reached the Section 106 agreement with Southampton International Airport and on the same day issued planning permission for the runway extension, before a decision by the Secretary of State had been made.
GOESA Ltd argues that Eastleigh Borough Council:

  • Breached residents’ legitimate expectation that it would not grant planning permission until the Communities Secretary had had time to rule on their request for a public inquiry. The statement on the council website was clear and unambiguous.
  • Breached the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 by failing to assess the cumulative effects of potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would be caused by the runway extension. The Environmental Statement produced by Southampton International Airport only described the GHG emissions from this proposed development and not those from other linked airport expansions.
  • Unlawfully applied the “tilted balance” in favour of permission when the most important policies for determining the application were out of date contrary to the National Policy and Planning Framework. The council concluded that, because one part of policy was out of date, that allowed it to apply the “titled balance”.
  • The council was wrongly influenced by a publicity campaign asserting that the airport would have to close if permission were not granted. It disregarded potential economic harms of the extension and factored into its decision projected benefits without seeing the proper evidence for them.
Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:
“There is a real issue of local democracy at stake here. How can it be lawful for Eastleigh Borough Council to promise to wait for central Government, to respond to local requests for further scrutiny of the airport extension, but then grant planning permission before allowing that oversight process to be completed? Our clients believe this should be properly examined by the High Court, and look forward to putting their arguments robustly to the Judge.”

Leigh Day instructed counsel David Wolfe of Matrix Law, Ashley Bowes of Cornerstone Barristers and Peter Lockley of 11KBW.
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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