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Friends of the Earth wins campaign to protect the climate from Heathrow Third Runway

news release
27th Feb 2020
  • Celebration rally taking place outside Royal Courts of Justice until 12:00
  • Friends of the Earth spokespeople available for interview on location and in studio

“This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.” Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth.

The government’s decision to expand Heathrow Airport has been ruled “unlawful” by the Court of Appeal, on climate change grounds, in one of the most important environmental law cases in this country for over a generation. This follows a successful legal challenge by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, represented by Leigh Day, in a victory for local campaigners who have been battling against the third runway for years.

Will Rundle, head of legal at Friends of the Earth, added:

“We are delighted with The Court of Appeal’s ruling, which goes to show the massive importance of the legal system to check the clear abuse of state power by government, such as in this case.

“Shockingly, this case revealed that the government accepted legal advice that it should not consider the Paris Agreement when giving the third runway the go-ahead. The Court has said very clearly that was illegal.

“This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions. It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”

Jenny Bates, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The UK government must take this ruling as an opportunity to play its full part in fixing the international climate crisis, especially in the year that it hosts crucial climate talks in Glasgow. This means finally moving on from the climate-wrecking Heathrow third runway project and ensuring the UK aviation sector actually cuts its climate emissions, rather than adding to them.

“The Court has specifically recognised how the climate crisis needs to be at the heart of major infrastructure decisions. It’s time that the government catches up with this fact and stops pursuing its outdated climate-wrecking transport projects, such as major new roads and airport expansion at Heathrow or elsewhere, and instead gives us the clean transport network we need.” 

Rowan Smith, solicitor in the environmental law team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

“What is emphatically clear in this judgment is that the Court of Appeal concluded that there was absolutely no legal means by which the Government could ignore its international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement, and that such an omission was a fatal flaw to the lawfulness of the policy to greenlight a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

“The Lord Justices simply followed the legal framework set by Parliament, citing as they did their fundamental function to maintain the rule of law, and found that the Paris Agreement was so obviously material to a decision on Heathrow Airport expansion that the Secretary of State was legally bound to consider it. The Government must now go back to the drawing board and come up with a new policy, which lawfully fulfils its sustainable development duties and protects future generations.”

In its historic ruling, the designation of the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) was found unlawful by the Lord Justices of appeal. In their judgment, the Secretary of State for Transport (at the time Chris Grayling) had breached s10 of the Planning Act 2008, and acted irrationally, by disregarding the Paris Agreement, the non-CO2 warming impacts of aviation, and the effects of climate change beyond 2050, when making the ANPS to expand Heathrow. He also breached his duty to undertake a lawful strategic environmental assessment in accordance with the requirements of the SEA Directive and the SEA Regulations.

The Court ruled that this case was one of “exceptional public interest”, noting that “the issue of climate change is a matter of profound national and international importance of great concern to the public – and, indeed, to the Government of the United Kingdom and many other national governments, as is demonstrated by their commitment to the Paris Agreement.” 

Previous polling* for Friends of the Earth found 64% of people, after being told the potential benefits and negatives, are concerned about the climate impact of building a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The same survey found that only 1 in 4 people support the plans for a third runway.

ENDS

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 media@foe.co.uk.

To contact the Leigh Day press office call 0161 393 3547 or email pressoffice@leighday.co.uk

Notes to editors:

  1. Friends of the Earth are 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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Friends of the Earth successfully argued that the decision 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, the lack of any climate impacts of the project beyond 2050 when the lifetime of the project is expected to run until 2085,  and the failure to factor in any impact from the non-CO2 contribution of aviation to climate breakdown, in breach of the precautionary principle.
    1. The exact details of the remedy following this finding of unlawfulness are anticipated to be confirmed by the Court shortly but can include the entirety of the decision to allow the Third Runway being swept away.
  6. *Survey data from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,017 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th – 6th October 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
    1. The survey asked people about their level of concern, and whether they support or oppose the expansion, after respondents were shown the following text: “There are currently plans for a third runway to be built at Heathrow Airport. The additional runway would put 700 more planes into the sky each day – 50% more than the airport currently does. It has been suggested that this will bring certain benefits by creating new jobs and domestic flight routes, but it will also contribute to climate change and negatively impact those living around Heathrow Airport.”
  7. 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: friendsoftheearth.uk follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page.

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