Fears Heathrow ruling could pose threat to future transport projects

Fears Heathrow eco-bombshell could pose a threat to ALL future transport projects after court ruled the £14bn airport expansion was illegal

  • The Court of Appeal ruled the £14bn Heathrow Airport expansion was illegal 
  • It found the Government failed to account for its duty to curb climate change
  • The Transport Secretary said the Government would not appeal the ruling

British ambitions of becoming a global economic power after Brexit suffered a major blow yesterday after a court ruling suggested future airports, motorway and energy projects could all be blocked to prevent global warming.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the £14 billion expansion of Heathrow airport was illegal – because the Government failed to take into account its legal duty to curb climate change.

Green campaigners said the victory was ‘groundbreaking’ and warned the legal precedent sounded the death knell for big infrastructure projects that increased greenhouse gases.

But critics said the move would hand a huge economic advantage to the UK’s competitors.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government would not appeal the ruling – and that Heathrow expansion was the private sector’s responsibility. He tweeted: ‘Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment. This Government won’t appeal today’s judgment given our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry-led.’

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell joins protesters who oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport outside the High Court

Under the extension plan, a third runway would be built north-west of the airport, that would allow it to handle 756,000 flights a year, up from 473,000 last year.

The expansion was ruled unlawful by judges as it failed to take into account the UK’s legal commitment to curb global warming under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

This commits the UK – and nearly 200 other countries – to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to stop the world heating up by more than 2degC.

How Paris deal in 2015 was exploited by the activists 

The expansion of Heathrow has been blocked because green campaigners successfully claimed in court that it fails to take into account the UK’s legal commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

The Government’s Airports National Policy Statement set out the framework for the airport’s growth.

But Friends of the Earth argued that it ignored the commitment to the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement was signed by the UK in 2015 and was ratified in law the following year. It commits Britain, and nearly 200 other countries, to keep future global temperature rises ‘well below’ 2C (3.6F) and to ‘endeavour to limit’ them to 1.5C.

The policy failed to spell out how the massive expansion of Heathrow Airport could be consistent with reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Court of Appeal ruled that this case was one of ‘exceptional public interest’.

It noted 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’.

The court said Heathrow expansion might be able to go ahead if the Government could show it was consistent with the Paris Agreement.

The Government said it will not seek to overturn the ruling. But Heathrow’s chief executive announced that the airport intends to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a summary, Lord Justice Lindblom said the failure to take into account the Paris Agreement was ‘legally fatal’ to the plan.

The Heathrow expansion scheme, first mooted 17 years ago, was voted for overwhelmingly by MPs in June 2018. The then transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said the it would set a ‘clear path to our future as a global nation in the post-Brexit world’. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose Uxbridge constituency neighbours the airport, did not vote for the plan. He was in Afghanistan at the time and once promised he would ‘lie down’ in front of bulldozers to stop it.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport would challenge the court’s decision at the Supreme Court, saying: ‘We think the appeals court got it wrong. We have a very strong legal case, and we will be making that very firmly.’

Mr Holland-Kaye said Heathrow would work with the Government to review its policy ‘to make sure we can demonstrate expansion is compatible with the Paris accord on climate change’.

Former transport secretary Andrew Adonis said: ‘The only winners from a refusal to expand Heathrow as agreed by Parliament two years ago will be other international hubs that will take the extra traffic, especially Amsterdam, Paris and Dubai.

‘There won’t be fewer flights – they just won’t come to Britain.’

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said it was ‘bitterly disappointed’.

He added: ‘Without expansion, firms risk losing crucial regional connectivity and access to key markets across the world.

‘The benefits of a third runway would extend far beyond south-east England. Hundreds of UK companies are already invested in the supply chain for expansion, and tens of thousands of additional jobs will be created if the project goes ahead.’

Former chancellor George Osborne criticised Mr Johnson’s lack of leadership. He tweeted: ‘Judges kill off Heathrow third runway and Britain getting the modern air transport infrastructure we need, despite the elected Parliament voting for it overwhelmingly. Presumably this is the kind of over-reaching undemocratic judicial activism Boris wants to curb…or perhaps not.’

But green activists and academics celebrated the ruling. Will Rundle, of Friends of the Earth – one of the organisations which brought the legal action – said a third runway ‘would have had dire implications for present and future generations’. ‘This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice,’ he added.

Campaigners cheer outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on February 27

‘It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.’ Clare Farrell, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, added: ‘The recognition of this appeal will support citizens all over the world who are begging for policy-writing in line with the truth.’

Dr Phillip Williamson, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, said the Court of Appeal judgment ‘shows that the Paris Agreement is legally binding, not an aspiration, and will require many other policy re-thinks’.

Environment minister Zac Goldsmith, an opponent of Heathrow expansion, tweeted that the court’s decision was ‘HUGE!!!’ He also criticised a tweet by Greens MP Caroline Lucas which asked, ‘How can we trust Government pledges on climate when it has taken the courts to end climate-wrecking projects like Heathrow?’

Mr Goldsmith wrote: ‘Sometimes wonder if Greens actually prefer the bad news! How else to interpret this reaction to this good news (and this judgment combined with the Government’s decision not to appeal certainly is good news).’

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is visiting the UK today, tweeted: ‘Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change. Imagine when we all start taking the Paris Agreement into account.’

An act of self-harm to make us all poorer

Commentary by Alex Brummer for the Daily Mail

Climate-change activists will not be the only ones celebrating the Court of Appeal’s decision to block a new third runway at Heathrow. It saves the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who once threatened to lie down in front of the bulldozers, from having to make an embarrassing U-turn.

It is a great victory for British Airways owner IAG, which controls an astonishing 51.5 per cent of the take-off and landing slots at the airport and has such a dominant position that Virgin Atlantic and the myriad of other global carriers find it hard to compete.

And for most of the people living under the flightpath, including voters in Johnson’s Tory constituency of Uxbridge and the LibDem strongholds of south-west London, it will be a blessed relief.

But, as a resident of the Richmond Park neighbourhood, who is already woken up in the early hours by the noise of the lumbering jumbo jets arriving from the Far East, followed the red-eye flights from North America, I will not be joining in the celebrations – even though a third runway would increase the number of planes flying above my house.

The fact is that, as Britain looks to become more global in the post-Brexit era, it desperately needs more runway capacity in the prosperous south-east if we are not to lose out to foreign rivals.

The success of the economy in recent decades has been supported by a brilliant services sector, which accounts for 71 per cent of our economic output.

Services are about people, not goods, and it is Heathrow’s role in ferrying an army of consultants, lawyers, architects, engineers, academics and digital specialists between Britain and key corners of the business world such as Silicon Valley, which makes it so important.

A computer generated image released by Heathrow airport on June 18, 2019 shows what the airport will look like in 2050 following the completion of a third runway and new terminals

If this traffic were to be lost to Amsterdam’s Schipol (which has six runways), Frankfurt (four), or Charles de Gaulle in Paris (also four), the economic cost to the UK would be incalculable.

Meanwhile, although much of China is locked down at present because of the coronavirus, it has more than 200 international airports capable of accommodating the very biggest commercial planes.

In 2015, the Airport Commission, headed by City grandee Sir Howard Davies, recommended pressing ahead with a new runway at Heathrow and came up with a higher carbon-pricing formula designed to overcome the objections of the green lobby.

But dither and delay since then by the Cameron and May governments, together with changes in the UK’s carbon emissions targets, gave the activists the upper hand in the Court of Appeal. Heathrow, owned by Spanish construction group Ferrovial and the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and Singapore, plans to take its plans for a third runway to the Supreme Court. But without full government backing, and at a time of new promises to tighten carbon-emission standards, it is hard to see how real progress can be made.

This lack of government leadership is shameful. At the very time it is vital to demonstrate that Britain is determined to invest in its global future after Brexit, we are doing the reverse by washing our hands of the third runway.

The Government should absolutely be supporting Heathrow in its appeal. What kind of message, otherwise, is it sending out to the world? As anyone who uses Heathrow knows, the airport – which handled 65million passengers last year – is already full to the gunwales.

Capacity constraint leads to higher emissions per flight, not lower. It also means that London’s role as a hub for global traffic, with all the commerce that brings with it, is seriously hampered.

What few people realise is that Heathrow is enormously important for freight and exports. In terms of value, it is the UK’s biggest port for global markets excluding the EU and Switzerland, and handles 33 per cent of Britain’s exports to very fast-growing international markets which are at the heart of ‘global Britain’.

Marks & Spencer, for instance, supplies its franchise operators in Hong Kong with several jumbo-jet flights a week of fresh sandwiches and produce. What happens when capacity shortages prevents it – and other exporters – from doing so? They will go to other airports.

Heathrow says the third runway would be worth billions of pounds in exports.

The battle over London’s vital global transport hub is a sharp reminder of how the economic costs of a green agenda threaten the prosperity of the nation. Uncomfortable as the noise and pollution is for people like me living under the flightpath, the greater public good would be served by a new runway.

Moreover, the arrival of lighter, less polluting aircraft should, over time, substantially reduce noise and emissions.

By blocking the new runway, the Government and the courts have engaged in an act of self-harm which I fear could make us all poorer.

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