Boris on Heathrow after Supreme Court judgement: any expansion must meet strict air quality and climate criteria

Boris Johnson, with a constituency near Heathrow, was always a vociferous critic of the plans for a 3rd runway. When Heathrow took their appeal, against the ruling of the Appeal  Court against the ANPS in February, the government did not join them. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that the ANPS is legal, Boris has not said anything in favour of it. Allegra Stratton, his press secretary, said Heathrow still needed to convince the Planning Inspectorate that it met rigorous environmental benchmarks before being allowed to proceed through the DCO process. She said the “point the PM would make now” was that “any expansion must meet strict criteria on air quality noise and climate change and the government will come forward with a response shortly”. Heathrow may not be able to raise the necessary funds for the runway. Boris and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, will be under pressure to redraft the ANPS, as it was written in 2018 and is woefully out of date on carbon. Life has moved on since then; the UK now has to cut CO2 emissions by 100% by 2050 (from 1990 level), not the 80% target of 2018. There are now new UK targets – advised by the Committee on Climate Change – for a 68% cut in CO2 by 2030, and a 78% cut by 2035.  Expanding Heathrow cannot be squared with that.



Boris Johnson refuses to back third runway after Supreme Court backs Heathrow

By Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent (The Times)
Wednesday December 16 2020

Boris Johnson has refused to endorse proposals for a third runway at Heathrow despite a ruling in favour of the airport by the UK’s highest court.

The panel of five Supreme Court justices overturned an earlier judgment against expansion, effectively giving Heathrow the green light to plan for the £14 billion project.

The Court of Appeal ruled in February found that government backing for the two-mile runway in 2018 was unlawful because it failed to take account of climate change commitments.

Heathrow welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. It will still need to apply for a development consent order — planning approval for large projects. The airport said the decision was the “right result for the country”.

Critics questioned whether the runway, which is supposed to be built northwest of the existing airport, would proceed.

Heathrow has been struggling after the drop in demand for air travel linked to the pandemic, seeing passenger numbers decline by 72 per cent this year and incurring losses of £1.5 billion.

Mr Johnson, MP for nearby Uxbridge & South Ruislip, and a long-time opponent of expansion, failed on Wednesday to back the decision.

Allegra Stratton, his press secretary, pointed out that Heathrow still needed to convince the planning inspectorate that it met rigorous environmental benchmarks before being allowed to proceed. She said the “point the PM would make now” was that “any expansion must meet strict criteria on air quality noise and climate change and the government will come forward with a response shortly”.

…then a bit of background ….

In a judgment delivered on Wednesday morning the Supreme Court struck down the decision, saying Mr Grayling acted lawfully by relying on domestic legislation when preparing the policy.

Lord Sales said there was “no obligation” to discuss the Paris agreement separately in its policy because it had yet to be translated into domestic law. Mr Grayling considered advice from his climate change advisers on the issue of Paris, he said.

He added: “[The court] finds that the secretary of state did take the Paris agreement into account. He was not legally required to give it more weight than he decided was appropriate, in line with the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. The national policy statement is not affected by any unlawfulness and is valid.”

Lawyers for Heathrow had told the Supreme Court in October that the company wanted to proceed with the runway but could not complete it until 2030 at the earliest. It previously wanted to open the northwest runway in 2026.

The new runway is intended to boost Heathrow’s capacity by 50 per cent, with up to 280,000 extra flights a year and a total of 142 million passengers.

Heathrow’s backers welcomed the verdict. Parmjit Dhanda, executive director of the pro-expansion Back Heathrow group, said: “This is an important moment for local communities, desperate for jobs and apprenticeships at a very hard time for our economy.”

Warren Kenny, acting general secretary of the GMB union, said: “It’s time for ministers to step up and back Heathrow and the wider aviation industry with the support it needs to get itself flying once again.”

However, critics said expansion remained a “distant prospect”. John Stewart, the chairman of Hacan, the residents’ group opposed to Heathrow expansion, said: “There remain real doubts about whether the third runway will ever see the light of day.

Labour said it continued to oppose expansion at Heathrow, saying the airport had failed to meet its own environmental tests. Jim McMahon, shadow transport secretary, said: “Any airport expansion must pass our tests on air quality, noise pollution, delivering countrywide economic benefits and enabling us to meet our obligations on climate change”

The airport instantly reaffirmed its intention to proceed with the two-mile runway, the first in the busiest corner of the UK since the Second World War, saying it was vital to ensure the country capitalises on its post-Brexit trading freedom.

There remains deep scepticism it will ever be built, however. First, and perhaps most fundamentally, is the question of whether it will be needed. Heathrow has witnessed a 72 per cent drop in passengers since the start of this year after the pandemic obliterated demand for air travel.

What was once easily Europe’s busiest airport, has been overtaken by its main rival, Paris Charles de Gaulle, in recent months, racking up eye-watering losses of £1.5 billion. Even optimistic forecasts suggest it will take four years for travel to return to pre-pandemic levels. Some analysts say it could take a decade or more, particularly given a newfound dependence on video calls to conduct global business.

It is also far from certain that Heathrow will raise the £14 billion in private investment needed to complete the initial construction phase. The money will be recouped through passengers — a sore point among airlines — but shareholders may be reluctant to stump up the cash without certainty over bumper financial returns.

In addition, Boris Johnson and his government may yet prove to be a barrier. The prime minister once famously promised to “lie down . . . in front of those bulldozers” to stop it being built. He is now under pressure to redraft the Airports National Policy Statement, the legislation approved in 2018 that grants Heathrow outline planning consent, with critics pointing out that it no longer reflects a toughening of the government’s climate change commitments over the past two years.

Heathrow will also be forced to apply for a development consent order, which is required for significant infrastructure. As part of the process, the planning inspectorate will scrutinise its environmental credentials and could take the view that it is incompatible with the law as it now stands.

Even if it recommends planning approval, there is no guarantee that Mr Johnson’s government will grant it. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has form for dismissing planning inspectorate recommendations — last month he approved the Stonehenge tunnel despite warnings from planners to reject it and could do so again.

Finally, all legal avenues are yet to be exhausted. Plan B, one of the environmental groups opposed to the third runway, has announce plans for a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which will still apply to the UK after Brexit.

This judgment represented a significant victory for Heathrow. It may be some time, however, before a new runway is built in west London.


Without political will, the expansion plans are unlikely to happen, Friends of the Earth previously told Climate Home. Prime minister Boris Johnson, whose constituency is close to Heathrow, has been an outspoken critic of a third runway in the past.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said in a statement: “Now the ball is in the government’s court, it’s hard to imagine Boris Johnson wanting to resurrect a project that makes no business or environmental sense. With a UK-hosted climate summit just a year away, the government should draw a line under this sorry saga.”


“Boris should bulldoze third runway plan” – writes Alistair Osborne in the Times

Another chance for a Boris Johnson lying routine. This time in front of the bulldozers: back on the horizon after the latest legal twist in the never-ending Heathrow third runway saga.

It’s a landing strip Britain’s successfully not been building since 1968. So, imagine the PM’s delight in February when the Court of Appeal finally brought the journey to an end. It saved BoJo the trouble of living up to his promise to prostrate himself before the JCBs. Indeed, so thrilled was he with the ruling that the government’s Airports National Policy Statement broke the law that he didn’t even appeal it.

Heathrow did. And now? The so-called “£14 billion” project is making a Lazarus-like return thanks to the Supreme Court overturning the verdict. It’s taken a “narrow” legal definition of what constitutes “government policy”. And found that, whatever his other faults, former transport secretary Chris Grayling did not act “unlawfully” in framing airports policy without due regard to the UK’s net-zero commitments under the Paris agreement, ratified in 2016. The judges found that he took Paris “into account but decided that it was not necessary to give it further weight” in the policy statement.

On the narrow legal point, the Supreme Court may be right. But what’s it mean in practice? Well, basically, that Boris has a decision to make. Does he halt a project he doesn’t believe in now? Or allow Heathrow to push ahead with a protracted and costly planning inquiry and see what happens, knowing the government has the final say on whether the runway goes ahead? And if he goes for the easier second option, who pays?

Already, Heathrow has spent £550 million on a third runway that makes even less sense in a post-Covid world. The issue of whether business travel will ever take off again can now be added to all the other problems: wrong location; surrounding roads already in breach of nitrogen dioxide limits; noise pollution; the steepest passenger charges anywhere even before a runway bill that’ll dwarf the advertised £14 billion.

And, whatever Heathrow says about the project meeting Paris targets, how can adding 250,000 extra flights a year help? Or, for that matter, with “levelling up”? As the Climate Change Committee found, expand Heathrow and you “leave at most very limited room for growth at non-London airports”. In short, you embed a monopoly.

Heathrow reckons it has arguments against all that. It says the “robust planning process” will compel it “to prove expansion is compliant with the UK’s climate change obligations”. But the airlines are cross enough that the Civil Aviation Authority is minded to let Heathrow add the £550 million runway costs so far to its regulated asset base, forcing passengers to pick up the tab via higher charges.

That bill will rocket if ministers allow Heathrow to start the process for a “development consent order”. And who pays if the government kills the project at the death? The passengers, for a non-existent runway? Shamelessly, Heathrow wants them to pay £1.7 billion Covid costs. The government and CAA must make it clear that pursuing planning consent is at the risk of Heathrow’s owners. Better still, Boris could save us all the trouble and bulldoze the project now.

See earlier:


Committee on Climate Change – recommendations to government – lots on aviation carbon changes and policies needed

The Committee on Climate Change has published its guidance for the UK government on its Sixth Carbon Budget, for the period 2033 – 37, and how to reach net-zero by 2050.  There is a great deal of detail, many documents, many recommendations – with plenty on aviation. The intention is for UK aviation to be net-zero by 2050, though the CCC note there are not yet proper aviation policies by the UK government to achieve this. International aviation must be included in the Sixth Carbon budget. If the overall aviation CO2 emissions can be reduced enough, it might be possible to have 25% more air passengers in 2050 than in 2018. The amount of low-carbon fuels has been increased from the CCC’s earlier maximum realistic estimates of 5-10%, up to perhaps 25% by 2050, with “just over two-thirds of this coming from biofuels and the remainder from carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel …” Residual CO2 emissions will need to be removed from the air, and international carbon offsets are not permitted. There is an assumption of 1.4% efficiency improvement per year, or at the most 2.1%. There “should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory.”  The role of non-CO2 is recognised, but not included in carbon budgets; its heating effect must not increase after 2050.  And lots more …

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See much earlier:

Boris to fight (“undeliverable”) 3rd Heathrow runway; he won’t resign over it – but would fight from within Parliament – the bulldozer comment

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is now also MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip, has said he would not resign as an MP if the Conservative government approved a Heathrow 3rd runway. He believes he would be better able to fight it by remaining in Parliament. Boris will now be attending the Cabinet – but he does not have a ministerial role, so he can devote his attention to his final year as Mayor. Boris has, for many years, been an outspoken opponent of a new Heathrow runway because of the highly negative impacts of noise and air pollution on Londoners.  He has now said that if there was a Heathrow runway, with meeting air quality standards a very difficult challenge, there would have to be a new congestion charge zone around it. That would be the only way to tackle the traffic congestion and air pollution caused by so many extra road vehicles (as well as planes and airport vehicles). Boris said in his MP acceptance speech that he would join Zac Goldsmith and lie down “in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that 3rd runway” at Heathrow. He said a 3rd Heathrow runway was “undeliverable” and that if the Airports Commission recommended it, he hoped their report would be “filed vertically [shelved]” as others had been.