CO2 ruling may halt new airport runways

28.3.2010   (Sunday Times)


CAMPAIGNERS will seek to block airport expansion across Britain following a High
Court judgment which criticised the government’s decision to build a third runway
at Heathrow.

Environmental groups linked to Stansted, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and
a string of other airports hope to use the ruling to launch fresh challenges against
plans for mass growth in flights and passenger numbers.

The judgment on Friday found that ministers had failed to take account of new,
legally binding targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when they approved
the expansion of Heathrow.

It comes after a two-year campaign by The Sunday Times revealed how BAA, the
owner of Heathrow, colluded with the government to build the case for passenger

Justine Greening, a Tory frontbencher who has led opposition to the third runway,
said: "This ruling has profound consequences for airport expansion, not just at
Heathrow but across the country. The law is there to protect people from overpowerful
and vested interests and Friday’s ruling was a victory for the people."

The government’s case for expanding Heathrow hinged on a seven-year-old aviation
white paper.   A coalition of local councils, residents and green groups argued
that it failed to take into account statutory limits on CO2 emissions that were
introduced in 2008.

Lord Justice Carnwath agreed, saying the government’s position was "untenable"
and should be reviewed. The judge said: "Common sense demanded that a policy established
in 2003, before important developments in climate change policy, should be subject
to review in light of these developments."

Carnwath declined to rule that Heathrow’s third runway should be abandoned, but
the verdict could still have repercussions across the country.

At Stansted, BAA has announced plans for a second runway which would see passenger
numbers rise from 24m to 68m by 2030. Carol Barbone, the director of Stop Stansted
Expansion, said: "Without the security blanket of government policy to rely on,
BAA knows its chances of securing a favourable result from a public inquiry are
extremely doubtful."

Activists believe that plans for a second runway at Birmingham international
airport, outlined in the 2003 aviation white paper, are now dead in the water.
Proposals to increase the number of passengers at Bristol international airport
from 6.2m to 10m by 2020, currently being considered by the local council, could
now be challenged. Carnwath’s ruling could also scupper the introduction of more
flights at Manchester airport, Southend airport in Essex and Biggin Hill in Kent.

It means that proposals by this newspaper and backed by Boris Johnson, the London
mayor, for a four-runway island airport in the Thames estuary are now highly unlikely
to proceed. However, Manchester city council has already approved plans for its
airport to expand to handle up to 50m passengers a year by 2030.

Robbie Gillett, spokesman for the Stop Expansion At Manchester Airport coalition,
said: "The expansion plans are based on outdated thinking. This ruling gives us
strong grounds to challenge further growth."

Under the climate change act, Britain is committed to reducing its CO2 emissions
by an average of 80% from 1990 levels.   Ministers denied that Carnwath’s decision
represented a setback but said that aviation policy will be re-examined in 2011
when the new climate targets will be taken into account.

Gordon Brown insisted that a new runway at Heathrow was vital to "help secure
jobs and underpin economic growth".   The prime minister said the government backed
it "after a detailed assessment showing that strict environmental limits for expansion
could be met".

Campaigners claimed that the government will now have to conduct a new public
consultation.   Kate Harrison, a lawyer for the coalition against a third runway,
said:   "Any expansion approved under the policy framework of the 2003 [white]
paper will now be open to legal challenge.   What the judge said last week was
‘Forget that framework, it’s out of date’.

"The ambitions for expanding aviation will have to be dramatically scaled back."

Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, said: "High-speed rail could
provide an attractive alternative to domestic and European flights.

"We remain opposed to a third runway on economic and environmental grounds —
if we are the next government, it won’t happen."

The judgment also vindicates criticism from campaigners that ministers underplayed
the environmental impact of a third runway when weighed up against its economic

The ruling marked the culmination of a campaign using freedom of information
laws to reveal how BAA and the Department for Transport "fixed" data to force
through expansion plans.  In March 2008, internal documents showed BAA executives
prevented the use of data in a consultation document that showed Heathrow’s expansion
would cause unlawful levels of pollution and extra noise.

BAA used the low emissions figures of a non-existent plane to help clinch its
case. The 450-seat "virtual" jumbo was invented for environmental modelling after
BAA realised it would otherwise exceed noise and pollution limits.


Heathrow Victory in the High Court

An Assessment by John Stewart, Chairman of Hacan and of   AirportWatch

The Third Runway has not yet been dropped but the ruling in the High Court of
Lord Justice Carnwath is hugely significant not just for Heathrow but for airport
expansion across the country.

The ruling

He said that that the decision by the Government in January 2009 to give BAA
the green light to draw up detailed plans for a third runway could not, in law,
be regarded as a policy decision because it failed to take full account of policy
developments in the areas of climate change and economics since the Air Transport
White Paper was published in 2003.   The Government had admitted that it was the
2003 White Paper which framed the decision.   He also found that the Government
had done insufficient work on how the increased number of passengers could be
accommodated on the roads and railways to warrant the third terminal being given
the green light.

Wider implications for other airport campaigns

It is, however, the finding around the White Paper that has most significance
for both Heathrow and for expansion proposals at other airports.   The White Paper
is Government policy.   As such all the expansion proposals at airports in the
UK are based on it.   Until now the White Paper has not been able to be challenged
at public enquiries because it was Government policy.

The Aviation White Paper killed off

This ruling changes all that.   The judge has ruled that the White Paper is out-of-date
because it does not take account of crucial developments in policy in the fields
of climate change and economics.   The White Paper is no longer ‘the bible’ campaigners
cannot challenge.

Government reaction

The Government says that it will take account of new policy developments when
drawing up its National Policy Statement in aviation, expected in 2011.   If Labour
is still in power, we wait to see what will emerge.   But until then all expansion
proposals based in the White Paper can be challenged.

A very significant judgment

The respected environment journalist, Geoffrey Lean, writing in the Daily Telegraph,
has said that the judgment may be even more significant than that.   He is arguing
that the effect of the ruling is that the Government is required to take into
account the latest policy developments on climate change with regard to any new
carbon-emitting development.

The future of a third runway

The future of the third runway?   The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats
have pledged to scrap it if they are in power after the forthcoming General Election.  
This ruling makes it a lot more difficult for a Labour Government to proceed with

For background on the High Court judgement see


The Government’s Heathrow policy is in tatters this morning after the High Court
ruled that ministers’ decision to give a green light to the proposed 3rd runway
at Heathrow does not hold any weight. The judge dismissed the Government’s claims
to the contrary as ‘untenable in law and common sense’. If the Government wants
to pursue its plans for Heathrow expansion it must now go back to square one and
reconsider the entire case for the runway. The implications of today’s ruling
are profound, not just for Heathrow but for airport expansion plans across the
UK. Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper – the
foundation of expansion plans across the country – is obsolete because it is inconsistent
with the Climate Change Act 2008.         26.3.2010   More …..


and more at     Heathrow news