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“Heathrow expansion remains very far from certain”: Friends of the Earth reacts as Supreme Court rules on policy allowing third runway

news release

• Judgment is no ‘green light’ for expansion. It makes clear that full climate considerations remain to be addressed and resolved at the planning stage, where Friends of the Earth will continue the challenge against a third runway
• Government has been recently warned by its own advisers against net airport expansion
• Green jobs, low-carbon travel and the health and wellbeing of everyone must be government priority for 2021 and beyond

The Supreme Court has ruled that the government policy supporting expansion of Heathrow Airport is lawful, overturning Friends of the Earth’s historic legal victory against the third runway earlier this year. But the expansion of Heathrow Airport remains far from certain. Friends of the Earth will continue to challenge the third runway project in the planning arena. Read full legal briefing here
Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, said:
“This judgment is no ‘green light’ for expansion. It makes clear that full climate considerations remain to be addressed and resolved at the planning stage. Heathrow expansion remains very far from certain and we now look forward to stopping the third runway in the planning arena.
“With ever stronger climate policy commitments that Heathrow must meet, it remains unlikely it will ever get planning permission for the third runway. Friends of the Earth will fight it all the way. We are in this for people everywhere facing climate breakdown right now, and for the next generation who are being left to inherit a world changed for the worse.”
Jenny Bates, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:
“With global temperatures soaring, communities in the UK and around the world being displaced, and our ecological system on the brink of collapse, the last thing we need is to fill the skies with more planes. Last week the government was even warned by its own advisers at the Committee on Climate Change that there can be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the aviation industry achieves unexpectedly fast emissions cuts. Given this warning, it is hard to see how Heathrow expansion can proceed. Boris Johnson must re-think the decision to approve the policy supporting expansion of Heathrow airport, and commit to no net airport expansion in-line with the advice of independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change.
“The UK has the potential to lead the world in ambitious climate action but only if the government takes this opportunity to steer the country to a sustainable future, making green jobs, low-carbon travel and the health and wellbeing of all of us a priority. 2021 will be a key year for this, when the eyes of the world turn to the UK as host of UN climate talks.”
Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:
“Our client can be extremely proud of what it has achieved for the environment, as we welcome the Supreme Court ruling that any future Government decision under the Airports National Policy Strategy to grant development consent for the third runway at Heathrow must be made in accordance with the obligations under the Paris Agreement and the carbon reduction targets in place at that time.
“Given those obligations and targets have become much more challenging since the ANPS was designated and are only expected to get tougher, especially in light of the advice by the Committee on Climate Change that, in order to meet Net Zero Target, there should be no net increase in airport capacity, this judgment represents a huge advancement in our client’s continuing battle against the third runway and the climate catastrophe facing the world.”
The Supreme Court allowed Heathrow’s appeal and reversed the Court of Appeal ruling.
In relation to Friends of the Earth’s grounds, the Supreme Court has held that the Secretary of State had a broad discretion on what to consider as part of climate change and sustainable development in relation to the section 10 duty under the Planning Act 2008, and whether and how far it should consider the Paris Agreement. As such, the Secretary of State acted rationally in the way it had made its decision.
For more information contact the Friends of the Earth press office on 020 7566 1649 / 07718 394786 (out of hours – please do not text this number) or by emailing
To contact the Leigh Day press office call 0161 393 3547 or email
Notes to editors:

1. Friends of the Earth were represented by law firm Leigh Day and barristers David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers, Peter Lockley of 11 Kings Bench Walk Chambers and Andrew Parkinson of Landmark Chambers.

2. Brief legal history:
a. The High Court ruled on 1 May 2019 that the government’s decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport was lawful. This followed legal challenges brought by a number of environmental NGOs, pressure groups and local councils which were heard collectively by the court in March 2019.
b. In October 2019 The Court of Appeal heard Friends of the Earth’s appeal against the High Court’s decision that the government had not breached its sustainable development duties by allowing the expansion of Heathrow.
c. Environmental group Friends of the Earth brought one of the two successful legal challenges in the proceedings, focusing on the climate change and sustainable development impacts of a third runway.
d. Friends of the Earth successfully argued that the decision to make the ANPS breached the Secretary of State for Transport’s sustainable development duty in failing to have regard to the desirability of mitigating climate change for future generations. This was specifically due to: not considering the UN’s Paris Agreement, nor climate impacts of the project beyond 2050 when the lifetime of the project is expected to run until 2085, and also the failure to factor in any impact from the non-CO2 contribution of aviation to climate breakdown, in breach of the precautionary principle.

3. Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page.

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