As the pollution lifts over Heathrow today, plans for a third runway are grounded but not dead.
The High Court told the Government that it should take into account the latest data on climate change, the economy and local transport before giving Heathrow expansion the final green light.
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis immediately signalled he is determined to press ahead with the plans, which could see the number of flights at the airport soaring to 605,000 a year and then to more than 700,000.
This may just be bravado, to avoid a humiliating retreat before the general election. But the Government has stuck firmly to its belief that another runway, and sixth terminal, is vital for Britain, would create 80,000 jobs and boost Heathrow’s reputation as an air travel hub.
The High Court ruling, though, is a blow to the Government which has faced accusations, which it denies, of colluding with airport operator BAA over measuring pollution at the airport to justify its expansion.
With many marginal seats in London on the Heathrow flightpath, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs were like bees around a honeypot as they celebrated the judgment with campaigners outside the High Court.
But the Government’s committee on climate change has not ruled that a third runway is incompatible with meeting environmental limits.
This decision means a third runway could still well go ahead â€” if Labour wins the election.
The decision does not rule out a new runway but calls for a review “of all the relevant policy issues, including the impact of climate change policy”.
The Department for Transport vowed to “robustly defend” the third runway plan.
This judgment is a victory – it means that whichever party is in government they will not now be able to force through Heathrow expansion
Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington
The coalition which sought the judicial review into the government’s decision, made in 2003 and confirmed in January last year, includes six local authorities, Greenpeace and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
The coalition said in a joint statement that the government’s Heathrow policy “is in tatters this morning” after the judge ruled the decision to give the third runway the green light was “untenable”.
The statement said: “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.”
Hayes and Harlington Labour MP John McDonnell, who has led the campaign against the expansion of Heathrow for the last 30 years, said: “This judgment is a victory. It means that whichever party is in government they will not now be able to force through Heathrow expansion.”
“It is also entirely compatible with our carbon reduction target, as demonstrated in the recent report by the Committee on Climate Change.”
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the new runway would “help secure jobs and underpin economic growth”.
“We are taking seriously both the concerns that people have and the need for public consultation,” he said.
“But we took a tough decision, the right decision necessary for the future of Britain and the economy, and a new runway will help secure Britain’s economic future.”
But Conservative leader David Cameron said the ruling left the government’s policy “in tatters”.
He said: “They made the wrong judgment about this, we made the right judgment. We said the third runway shouldn’t go ahead, we were absolutely clear about that.”
The coalition against the runway had argued that there was no evidence to support the government’s claim that there will be enough public transport to serve it.
In approving the third runway, the government had said the environmental conditions for expansion at Heathrow set out in the 2003 Air Transport White Paper (ATWP), relating to noise, air quality and access, could be met.
But Lord Justice Carnwath ruled the coalition’s submissions “add up, in my view, to a powerful demonstration of the potential significance of developments in climate change policy since the 2003 White Paper”.
He said they were “clearly matters which will need to be taken into account” under the new national policy statement (NPS) dealing with airport expansion.
Nigel Pleming QC, for the coalition, said the “economic and environmental” position had fundamentally changed since 2003, which raised the question of whether the government should continue to support the expansion.
While ordering it be reconsidered, the judge refused to quash the government’s decision to “confirm policy support” for a third runway, stating that he doubted whether such an order would be appropriate.
The decision was greeted with jubilation by campaigners.
Outside the High Court they waved their copies of the judgement and drank champagne.
The decision means that at the very least Labour would have to re-run the consultation on a third runway.
Campaigners hope that will mean that if Labour were to win the election, they would have the perfect excuse to drop the policy.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have also opposed a third runway but campaigners were worried that if they formed the new government they could change their minds under lobbying from British Airways and airports operator BAA.
They think this judgment makes this less likely.
This ruling is a huge blow to Labour on one of its flagship transport policies and they will now have a lot of thinking to do.