Third Heathrow runway looks set to proceed after Supreme Court ruling

Heathrow’s third runway looks set to go ahead following a Supreme Court judgement that has overturned a ruling made earlier this year that blocked its construction.

In February, the Court of Appeal blocked the plans over concerns that they failed to account for climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

However, this morning, the Supreme Court sided with Heathrow Airport Ltd’s challenge against the ruling. The firm said that the latest decision will “allow global Britain to become a reality”.

Environmental groups and other opponents of the expansion project described the outcome as “incredibly disappointing”, but insisted there “remains real doubt” about whether the third runway will ever happen.

The £19bn runway was finally given the go-ahead in 2018 after years of legal wrangling over its construction. Initially, the project enjoyed the support of then-transport secretary Chris Grayling in an Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS).

In September 2020, three judges ruled that the ANPS did not adhere to the government’s climate commitments, but in a summary of the Supreme Court’s ruling today Lord Sales said Grayling’s decision was lawful and he was under “no obligation” to discuss the Paris Agreement separately in the ANPS.

Heathrow is Britain’s biggest airport and its owners are keen to proceed with the project despite unprecedented falls in air travel in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “Only by expanding the UK’s hub airport can we connect all of Britain to all of the growing markets of the world, helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of our country.

“Demand for aviation will recover from Covid-19 and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.

“Heathrow has already committed to net-zero and this ruling recognises the robust planning process that will require us to prove expansion is compliant with the UK’s climate change obligations, including the Paris climate agreement, before construction can begin.”

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, expressed disappointment at the decision, saying it will “have a damaging impact on air quality, noise and London’s ability to achieve net-zero carbon by 2030”.

John Stewart, who chairs anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said: “Despite this verdict, there remains real doubt about whether the third runway will ever see the light of day.

“Recovery is all that is on Heathrow’s mind right now. Flight numbers are down nearly 90 per cent. The airport’s expansion team has long since been disbanded. A third runway remains no more than a distant and uncertain prospect.”

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