Heathrow Expansion Faces Legal Test

Photo: Heathrow's expansion plans were MPs from across supported overwhelmingly by MPs across the political parties. (Photo Heathrow Airport)


Planned expansion of Heathrow Airport could be derailed after a group of local authorities launched a legal challenge against the project.  The London hub won a government vote in June to proceed with a £14bn development, including new terminals and a third runway, but faces opposition from local communities and environmentalists.  This includes the councils of Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond, Hammersmith and Fulham, and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, all of whom have joined forces with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and environmental action group Greenpeace to challenge the expansion.

In its submission to the High Court on August 7, the consortium argued that transport minister Chris Grayling “unlawfully designated the Airports National Policy Statement” under the Planning Act 2008.  It cites the grounds of the legal challenge as being on air quality, inadequate environmental assessment, climate change, surface access, a breach of the habitats directive and a flawed consultation process.

Hillingdon Council leader Ray Puddifoot added: “The abject failure to address the far-reaching consequences for both the environment and the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of residents across London is simply not acceptable.  This council is not prepared to stand back and allow this to happen without submitting the many flaws in this project to the rigorous scrutiny of the High Court and beyond, if necessary.”

The group is the latest to request a judicial review following similar action by Heathrow Hub, which offered an alternative but ultimately unsuccessful development plan for the airport, and climate charity Plan B.

Under a judicial review, the court cannot directly block construction of the third runway, but a judge could strike out an offending part of the government’s plan or order the policy to be changed or reviewed, either of which could significantly delay the project.

The legal action comes just weeks after MPs from across the political parties overwhelmingly supported the Airports National Policy Statement by 415 votes to 119 (a majority of 296), paving the way for the airport to apply for planning permission for its third runway.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has welcomed the report but has urged the government to act quickly. (Photo Heathrow)

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.
(Photo Heathrow Airport)

Responding to the vote, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Parliament has ended 50 years of debate by deciding that Heathrow expansion will go ahead.  This vote will see us deliver more jobs, create a lasting legacy of skills for future generations and guarantee expansion is delivered responsibly.  We are grateful that MPs have made the right choice for Britain and today we start work to create the best-connected hub airport in the world.”

The Department for Transport did not comment on the legal challenges but insisted its decision to press ahead with Heathrow expansion was in line with advice from the Airports Commission that such a project can be delivered within the constraints of the UK’s existing climate change targets.

“As the Secretary of State has made clear, we are confident in the decision-making process which led to designation of the Airports National Policy Statement, and stand ready to defend it robustly against legal challenge,” a DfT spokesman said.

A decision on whether the judicial reviews will proceed is yet to be taken, though Heathrow is still expected to embark on a second public consultation before submitting a development consent order application, kick-starting a process that is expected to take 18 months.  If approval is granted, construction could begin in 2021 ahead of the new runway opening in 2026.

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