What does the Supreme Court judgement on Heathrow’s runway plans mean for the campaign to stop the 3rd runway?

A briefing note from the No 3rd Runway Coalition on what comes next, after the Supreme Court judgement (16th December) sets out some key issues. The Coalition says the judgement does NOT give Heathrow the green light; it us simply one hurdle cleared. Expansion faces:  1. Legal challenges. Plan B Earth intends to take proceedings to the European Court of Human Rights, on the danger to future generations from climate change.   2. Government can commit to reviewing the ANPS under Section 6 of the Planning Act 2008. This can refer to all or part of the statement.  The Act enables the Secretary of State to consider any significant change in any circumstances on the basis of which any policy in the statement was decided.  It can be argued that the Net Zero commitments, noise, air pollution, assessment of health impacts, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economics provide legitimate reasons for review.  The ANPS could be withdrawn.  3. Though Heathrow can now proceed to submit an application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to the Planning Inspectorate, this has to consider current climate obligations, including the UK’s net zero by 2050 target. And Heathrow has been seriously damaged financially by Covid. See the full briefing note.




Briefing by the No 3rd Runway Coalition,
December 2020

Heathrow Campaign – Next steps

On 16th December 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal ruling which
means that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) is legal once again.
The Supreme Court’s verdict does not mean Heathrow expansion now has the green light.
It’s simply one hurdle cleared. Expansion faces the following further hurdles.

Legal avenues

Plan B Earth have announced they will launch proceedings before the European Court of
Human Rights (ECtHR) on the basis that Chris Grayling’s reliance on the dangerous and
discredited 2˚C temperature limit is inconsistent with the right to life, protected by Article
2 of the Convention. ECtHR has nothing to do with EU or Brexit. It was set up by Churchill
and others post WWII.
Government – Airports National Policy Statement
The onus is now on the Government to rule out Heathrow expansion, as continuing to
allow it to happen would be committing a massive retrograde step for our environment
ahead of the UK’s hosting of the COP26 summit in Glasgow next year.
Government can commit to reviewing the ANPS under Section 6 of the Planning Act 2008.
This can refer to all or part of the statement.
The Act enables the Secretary of State to consider any significant change in any
circumstances on the basis of which any policy in the statement was decided.
It can be argued that the Net Zero commitments and the impact of the COVID-19
pandemic provide legitimate reasons for review.
Further, the economic, noise, air pollution and health assessments undertaken as part of
the ANPS are now very out of date and require reassessing. For example, the ANPS
assessed economic benefits of the scheme as being based on the third runway being
constructed and opening in 2028. It suggested any delay would eliminate the economic
benefits of the scheme.
Once a review is complete the Secretary of State can withdraw the statement, amend
the statement or leave it unchanged.

Climate change agenda

The Climate Change Committee advised that there should be no net expansion of
airports. This means that if a 3rd runway goes ahead that there will need to be
operational restrictions at regional airports and potentially closure of some regional
Government will need to identify which airports they will be prepared to allow to close,
or to have operations significantly reduced.
Planning process
Heathrow can now proceed to submit an application for a Development Consent Order
(DCO) to the Planning Inspectorate.
As the Supreme Court made clear, that planning process will need to consider current
climate obligations, including the UK’s net zero by 2050 target. Heathrow expansion
implies 40 million tonnes of CO2 from UK aviation by 2050, presenting an obvious
Prior to the Court of Appeal ruling in February 2020, Heathrow had been planning a
second statutory consultation, effectively admitting that the initial consultation in 2019
had some serious gaps and failings. They will need to set a timetable for this consultation
to take place.
Once this consultation is completed Heathrow can, in theory, submit their application
whenever they like. There is no time constraint set out in the Planning Act 2008.
However, Heathrow had already admitted, prior to the start of the pandemic, that there
was likely to be a two-year delay to their plans. This is only likely to slip further given the
airport is focused on recovery.
Flight numbers are broadly expected to be the same in 2021 as in 2020 and industry
experts predict that 2019 levels of demand may not return until 2025, if at all.
Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland Kaye told the Transport Select Committee that
a 3rd runway may not be required for another 15 years.
There is huge uncertainty that the additional capacity of a third runway will ever be
Communities though will, in the meantime, be in limbo with no knowledge as to their
future. Heathrow should set out its intentions, in order to give at least some indication to
those who are impacted by its operations, as to what the immediate future holds.
No 3rd Runway Coaltion 

See also

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.

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Supreme Court rules that the Airports NPS is legal; climate issues of a Heathrow runway would have to be decided at the DCO stage

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Airports NPS is lawful. In February 2020 the Appeal Court had ruled that it was not, on climate grounds. The ANPS is the national policy framework which governs the construction of a Heathrow 3rd runway.  Any future application for development consent to build this runway will be considered against the policy framework in the ANPS. The ANPS does not grant development consent in its own right. The Supreme Court rejected the legal challenges by Friends of the Earth, and Plan B Earth, that the then Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, had not taken climate properly into account, nor the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. These are tricky points of law, and definition of the term “government policy” rather than the reality of climate policy.  Heathrow is now able to continue with plans to apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO) which is the planning stage of the runway scheme.The Supreme Court said at the DCO stage, Heathrow would have to show “that the development would be compatible with the up-to-date requirements under the Paris Agreement and the CCA 2008 measures as revised to take account of those requirements” and “The Court further holds that future applications [for the runway] will be assessed against the emissions targets and environmental policies in force at that later date rather than those set out in the ANPS.”

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Councils that legally challenged Heathrow expansion say Supreme Court Heathrow ruling ‘changes nothing’

The group of Councils deeply opposed to Heathrow expansion said the Supreme Court ruling, that the ANPS is legal, changes nothing and called on the airport to abandon once and for all its bid for a 3rd runway. Residents in all these boroughs are badly affected by noise of Heathrow planes.  Wandsworth Council urged Heathrow to concentrate on working with the aviation industry to achieve zero carbon emissions and an end to night flights. The Leader of Wandsworth Council, Cllr Ravi Govindia, said: “The ruling does not give Heathrow a green light for a third runway. It says nothing about how expansion could be delivered in the face of legally binding emissions targets.  The world has changed since Chris Grayling’s decision in 2018. Heathrow will never be able to build a third runway. It’s time for the airport to admit defeat and put all its energy into working with the aviation industry to achieve the net zero goal.  The Government must now as a matter of urgency produce a new aviation strategy for the UK which properly takes account of its legal commitment on emissions reductions.  And Heathrow could put an end to the early morning arrivals, the noise of which causes so much upset, disturbing the sleep of thousands, putting their health at risk.

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Heathrow appeal upheld … but reprieve disguises impossibility of 3rd runway plan

Commenting on the judgement by the Supreme Court today, upholding Heathrow’s appeal that the Airports NPS is legal, the Richmond Heathrow Campaign said the world has changed a lot since 2018. This is not least because of Covid-19. Climate change is the greatest risk to demand and last week the Climate Change Committee’s advice on the 6th Carbon Budget emphasised no net increase in UK airport capacity and that an increase at one airport means a reduction elsewhere – in other words levelling down (not up) the regions.  If Heathrow Airport Limited still wants a 3rd runway it will have to restart the already delayed planning process with diminishing chance of success. The pandemic has highlighted Heathrow’s lack of financial resilience and the improbability of raising finance for very expensive expansion in the face of demand constrained by climate risk. Heathrow should not waste billions of pounds on ill-judged expansion. Surely shareholders don’t want to replace a steady cash flow with the enormous project and financial risk from expansion under the evolving circumstances?

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