Legal challenges against government – new one by the Good Law Project on aviation and Heathrow

Environmentalists are using the law to force the government to bring infrastructure plans into line with its climate change commitments. There are already legal challenges, on energy and roads. The challenge on road building is by the Transport Action Network, and the energy one is by the Good Law Project.  Now the Good Law Project have started new legal action against the government, to the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). They insist that the ANPS must now be aligned with the Climate Change Act (2008), which is now in force and which demands almost zero emissions by 2050. The ANPS was first written when some believed (wrongly) that airport capacity in south-east England was becoming over-loaded.  Good Law says the strategy should be reviewed due to the likely long-term reduction in business travel due to Covid.  In addition there can be no justification for expanding Heathrow, with the UK’s climate commitments. Boris has been a long term opponent of a Heathrow 3rd runway, so would perhaps welcome a simple – and wise in terms of carbon – way to prevent it, once and for all.  In another legal challenge, Plan B Earth intends to take the Heathrow case to the European Court of Human Rights. 


Climate change: Law used as stick to beat government

By Roger Harrabin,  BBC environment analyst


Environmentalists are using the law to hound the government to force infrastructure plans into line with its climate change commitments. Ministers are facing a fusillade of legal challenges on airports, energy and roads.

And now they have been threatened with new legal action unless their airports strategy reflects the drive towards a zero-emissions economy.

A separate legal challenge to the government’s road building strategy from campaign group Transport Action Network is already under way.  [See link and link ]

Earlier this week, campaigners won a battle to force ministers to review their energy policy statement so it reflects climate concerns.

The new action against the airports strategy comes from a not-for-profit group, the Good Law Project. 

It is undaunted by this week’s Supreme Court defeat, when judges said the 2018 document didn’t break the law because at the time the UK was aiming for a 80% emissions cut by 2050.

Good Law accepts the Supreme Court ruling – but insists that the UK airports strategy must now be aligned with the Climate Change Act, which is now in force and which demands almost zero emissions by 2050.

The aviation strategy was agreed in the light of fears that airport capacity in south-east England was becoming over-loaded.

Good Law says the strategy should be reviewed because of the likely long-term dampening effect on business travel from the Covid pandemic – that’s as well as the carbon impacts of the runway.

A government spokesperson said it had always been clear that Heathrow expansion is a private sector project which must meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change.

“We take our commitments on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions seriously,” they added.

“The government is planning to consult next year on an aviation decarbonisation strategy, which will set out proposals for how the aviation sector will play its part in delivering our net zero commitments.”

But Good Law’s hopes for an immediate aviation review are based on a near-identical action it started in March to force the government to revise its Energy National Policy Statement in the light of net zero commitments. 
At first, Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma refused to comply, but earlier this week he capitulated.
Good Law expects the government to follow suit by revising the airports strategy shortly, too – especially as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously voiced opposition to Heathrow expansion and is reputed to be looking for an easy way to stop it.
A spokesperson for Good Law said: “Boris Johnson won’t need to ‘lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction of that third runway” (as he promised previously).

“He’ll merely need to ensure that the proposed development of Heathrow is considered under the legal regime that prevails today. It’s not too late to stop Heathrow expansion.”

Human rights challenge

Another group, Plan B, plans to challenge every stage of the Heathrow affair in the courts – including at the European Court of Human Rights, where campaigners will argue that relying on outdated emissions targets is inconsistent with the right to life.

The advisory Climate Change Committee recommends that building a third runway at Heathrow without shrinking airport capacity elsewhere would breach UK emissions targets.

The action against the road-building strategy is being taken by the Transport Action Network. It challenges the government’s 2014 National Networks National Policy Statement, which underpins its £27bn roads programme.

Campaigners argue that this, too, will breach climate targets.


Stopping climate change can’t be a lie we tell our children

19.12.2020 (The Good Law Project)


With noted environmentalist, Dale Vince, we  to require that it reviews the Airports National Policy Statement – or face legal proceedings. The claim, if successful, will mean Heathrow Airport expansion will have to meet much tougher environmental standards to get the go-ahead.

The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Airports NPS was not unlawful by reason of its failure to treat the Paris Agreement as government policy. But the Court was careful to confine its reasoning to the legal regime that existed in June 2018 – i.e. prior to Government making its net-zero by 2050 commitment.

Since the third runway at Heathrow was approved in 2018, the UK Government has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 and on 4 December it pledged to cut carbon emissions by 68% by 2030. But as matters stand, Heathrow Airport can seek permission to expand under the earlier, laxer, regime.

We believe this is unlawful and Government must revise and update the Airports NPS to take account of its new net-zero commitment in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008, via an amendment in 2019.

We think the litigation has a strong chance of succeeding – the legal point in this challenge is basically the same as that on which the Government conceded in our judicial review earlier this year over the outdated Energy National Policy Statements. This week the Secretary of State conceded in his Energy White Paper the need for a review of the Energy NPS.

The Government did not appeal the Court of Appeal’s judgment in February this year which ruled against the third runway for environmental reasons. And the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with a constituency near Heathrow, has been a longstanding critic of expansion.

Theresa May’s final act as Prime Minister was to set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target – making the UK the first major economy to do so. But setting targets does nothing to help halt climate change – we actually need to hit them. And that means we only approve new transport infrastructure when doing so is consistent with them.

We can’t allow climate change targets to become lies we tell our children and grandchildren.

It’s not too late to stop Heathrow expansion. If you are in a position to do so, you can support our legal challenge.

The Government is due to respond by 18th January 2021. If it does not concede the need for a review, we will issue judicial review proceedings.

It is only with your support that we can continue to hold Government to account. If you would like to make a donation, or join our mailing list, you can do so here.


See earlier:


Victory at last as Government confirms Energy National Policy Statement Review

The Good Law Project website

Back in October we told you that, following our judicial review with leading environmentalists George Monbiot and Dale Vince, Government had conceded the need to review the Energy National Policy Statement that allows new fossil fuel projects to be forced through the planning system.

We are pleased to report that Government has – at last – confirmed in its Energy White Paper that it does concede the need to review the Energy National Policy Statement.

This is an important victory for all of us deeply concerned about the mounting climate crisis, and a significant advance in the battle to ensure Government upholds its national and international obligations to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


NPS legal action – by the Transport Action Network


We first requested Transport Secretary Grant Shapps review the National Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN) back in March 2020. This is the policy used to determine applications for new roads. It was published in 2014 and is seriously out of date in a number of areas such as climate change, air pollution, natural capital (biodiversity) and design. It also effectively bars decision makers from taking into account the carbon emissions from new roads. Quite simply it is not fit for purpose during a climate and ecological emergency.

The Government dragged its feet for 7 months before making a decision on whether to review the NPSNN but then failed to tell us for nearly two weeks. That left us only around 4 weeks to launch a legal challenge which we did in December 2020. It has also refused to release all the documents associated with the decision, only releasing the advice to Ministers the day before we filed our claim.


Saturday 12 December, 2020: Announcing our legal challenge of the Government’s failure to review the National Policy Statement for National Networks:

See full press release at