Court ruling could see Heathrow expansion 'grounded for good'


The Court of Appeal has ruled the Government’s support for Heathrow expansion illegal on climate change grounds.

The country’s second highest court upheld a claim from two campaign groups that ministers’ designation of the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was unlawful as the document failed to show that it had taken into account the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Specifically in the context of the Paris Agreement on climate change, this omission was ‘fatal’ to the legality of the document under Section 5(8) of the Planning Act, which sets out the framework for national policy statements.

The judges rejected all other objections to the Government’s policy, including from a coalition of local authorities, and stressed, evidently with an awareness of recent criticism of the judiciary, that their decision was a purely legal one and did not consider the policy of expanding the airport in itself.

The Government has said it will not appeal the judgement. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that, ‘given our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry led’.

However, the airport itself has said that it will appeal and that it is confident that it will succeed. It described the point on which the court found against the Government as ‘eminently fixable’, adding: ‘In the meantime we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.’

The Government could still proceed with its policy of supporting a new runway without challenging the ruling, if it re-runs the process of drawing up the ANPS.


The decision is the latest in a succession of setbacks for plans to expand the airport. In 2010 the Labour Government’s plans for a third runway were also ruled illegal.

It also represents a further blow to the reputation of Chris Grayling, who, as transport secretary, designated the ANPS in 2018.

Friends of the Earth, which was one of the groups bringing the case, described the ruling as ‘an historic and ground-breaking result for climate justice and for future generations’.

Former transport secretary Justine Greening, who was moved from the Department for Transport because of her opposition to Heathrow expansion, said it was ‘bad for the environment and bad for levelling up Britain’. She added: ‘The third runway is now grounded for good.’

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