Climate Activists Succeed in Blocking Third Runway for Heathrow Airport

On February 27, the Court of Appeal for the UK issued several rulings in related proceedings regarding the expansion of Heathrow Airport. The government has been seeking to add a Third Runway to increase capacity at one of the world’s busiest airports. Lord Justices Lindblom, Singh, and Haddon-Cave issued the judgments.

For environmentalists, the most interesting part of the judgments entails a discussion about the UK Government’s policies and commitments regarding climate change. The Court concluded that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS), which was designated by the Secretary of State for Transport in June 2018, is a national policy statement under the Planning Act 2008. According to the Planning Act sec. 5(8), the ANPS needed to provide reasons for the policy, which “include an explanation of how the policy set out in the statement takes account of Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.” The Court found that the ANPS failed to take into consideration the UK Government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement. Through testimony and evidence, it was clear that the Secretary of State considered the targets of the Climate Change Act of 2008, but never explicitly considered the Paris Agreement. The testimony of Ms. Low on behalf of the Secretary noted that the team working on the ANPS considered the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. The Committee expressed an opinion that the existing emission reduction targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 could be consistent with the Paris Agreement, not necessarily that the targets were consistent with the Paris Agreement. By failing to take fully into account the Paris Agreement terms and requirements, the ANPS does not meet legal requirements.

The Planning Act provides for three different possible actions after a complete review of a national policy statement: 1) amend the statement; 2) withdraw the statement’s designation as a national policy statement; or 3) leave the statement as is. The Court determined that the most appropriate remedy is to declare the ANPS designation decision as unlawful and thus prevent the ANPS from having any legal effect unless and until the Secretary of State undertakes a review of the ANPS in accordance with provisions 6, 7, and 9 of the Planning Act.

The Court made it very clear that it was not passing judgment on the need for an additional runway at Heathrow, nor whether the project is necessarily incompatible with the requirements of the UK’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. The Court merely made the determination that the Secretary of State improperly designated the ANPS as a national policy statement since the Secretary of State did not strictly follow the procedures outlined in the Planning Act.


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