Andy Smith, Surrey director of CPRE, the countryside charity, has looked at the implications of the Heathrow Airport Appeal Court ruling
In a landmark decision on February 27 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s plan to expand Heathrow airport was ‘unlawful’.
The court concluded that ministers had acted in complete contradiction of the climate emergency and had failed to factor in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Building a third runway at Heathrow, judges ruled, would stop Britain meeting its internationally agreed climate targets.
This ruling means that the Government must reverse its policy on Heathrow Airport’s expansion.
But it also raises important questions about aviation generally, because it highlights the extent to which, BC – before COVID, expanding the aviation industry and increasing the numbers of flights over south-east England would make the climate situation even worse. We have now experienced how quieter skies have impacted on pollution levels.
However, will the Coronavirus have finally put paid to expansion at Heathrow, whilst increasing the likelihood of expansion at Gatwick? Or, will than Pandemic impact on Gatwick and the thousands of people who work there too?
The case against the Government was brought by Friends of the Earth (FoE), who successfully argued that the impact on the climate was not given due consideration – in line with legal requirements – when planning the expansion of the airport.
In particular, that the Secretary of State chose not to factor in the Paris Agreement, nor the full scale of climate impacts that aviation would create.
Heathrow – BC was one of the UK’s single largest sources of carbon emissions. A third runway would have meant around 700 extra flights per day. It would have made the Government’s own targets of reducing carbon emissions and achieving net zero all but impossible to meet.
FoE’s legal team said after the court’s decision: “This is a great result for the environment, and an excellent example of how we can and should hold the Government to account on their damaging decisions.
“We’ve been opposed to expansion from the start, and it’s hard to overstate what a significant win this is.”
Commenting on the court ruling, Sarah Clayton, coordinator of AirportWatch, said the judgment has “clear implications for any large infrastructure project and will require government ministers to take seriously their obligations to cut carbon emissions, through their Paris commitments.
“The Appeal Court has shown that the Paris agreement has real teeth, and suggests that these targets must now be taken into account in all future big infrastructure projects, including plans for new roads, airport expansion and the building of power stations.”
So, where does this leave Gatwick, the major airport on Waverley’s and Surrey’s doorstep? Particularly AC- after COVID?
With airlines including British Airways pulling out of Gatwick and with 12,500 of its employees facing redundancy many of whom live in the Gatwick diamond area in the Surrey and Sussex what does the future hold?
As things stand, while the threat of Heathrow expansion appears to have knocked back, there are still plans for Gatwick Airport to expand by bringing its emergency runway into regular use, potentially making Gatwick a two-runway airport.
If this happens it would add nearly a million tonnes of extra carbon per day. An extra 90,000 flights and a further 28 million passengers could depart from Gatwick by 2038 if current proposals go ahead.
Gatwick argues this can all be done under ‘permitted development’ and without going through a full planning enquiry.
It’s clear that the implication of the Appeal Court ruling on Heathrow is that there should be no new runways at all.
If the Government is serious about tackling climate change and reaching the UK’s target of carbon zero by 2050, it should be prepared to block any airport expansion proposed for the south-east of England, including Gatwick.
CPRE encourages everyone to write to the Secretary of State for Transport objecting to any expansion of Gatwick Airport and pointing to the Appeal Court ruling on Heathrow.
The climate emergency, the importance of protecting biodiversity and the natural environment, and the threats to air quality and rural tranquillity from increased flights, are all compelling reasons to oppose the unnecessary and environment-wrecking expansion of Gatwick Airport.
Write to: Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, Great Minster House 33 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 4DR.