The fight against Heathrow expansion

“If we want to leave a healthy planet for future generations, we simply can't allow a third runway to go ahead.” Jenny Bates, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, explains the environmental impacts of the Heathrow expansion.

Plane coming in to land at night
Plane coming in to land at night
Jenny Bates

From sweltering heatwaves in the UK to disastrous forest fires in the Amazon, the impacts of climate breakdown are already here. The time to stop these getting any worse is now, yet our government remains enthusiastic about high-carbon infrastructure projects such as the expansion of Heathrow. 

The fight against the planned third runway has been going on for years, as ministers keep on turning a blind eye to what would be an environmental disaster. Adding a third runway would increase the number of flights at Heathrow by 50 per cent – that’s an extra 700 planes a day, something that we just can’t allow to happen if we’re to avoid further devastating impacts of climate chaos at home and around the world.

Aviation emissions doubled between 1990 and 2016, and left unchecked these will continue to grow further. Yet the opposite is needed – we need fewer flights, not more. 

The High Court ruled in May that the government’s decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport was lawful, but the third runway still isn’t a done deal. Friends of the Earth is continuing to legally challenge the government over its decision to allow the expansion of Heathrow. We’re taking the case to The Court of Appeal from 17 October. We argue that the government has failed in its duties on sustainable development (looking after the interests of future generations) and that a third runway would leave them more at risk of inheriting a high-carbon world suffering climate breakdown. 

Our legal case is about climate justice and protecting future generations, but the impacts of an expanded Heathrow would be so wide that the project is facing several other legal challenges from others on grounds including air pollution. Air pollution in London – and most areas of the UK – is over legal limits, and in the capital alone causes thousands of early deaths, and many more to suffer ill health. Heathrow’s latest information admits that a third runway would directly lead to at least one new breach of legal air pollution limits – their plans would see more road traffic, and include huge car parks and access roads. The health consequences of this are unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen. 

Putting a stop to the expansion of Heathrow (and all other airports) doesn’t mean putting a stop to international travel. Ultimately, we’re campaigning for a world where international travel by train and boat is more affordable and attractive than flying. Excessive flying must be restricted, through means such as a frequent flyer levy. This isn’t about stopping everyone flying, it’s about changing the environmentally destructive frequent flying by a minority that has been fostered by airlines and governments.

 Airlines enjoy generous tax breaks on aviation fuel – and this loss of revenue costs the government billions each year. It is this that helps bring about the current state where a flight to the south of Spain can be purchased for the same amount, or even cheaper, than a train journey within the UK.

Expanding Heathrow will particularly benefit a minority of people, while leaving us all to suffer the awful impact on the environment. There’s still time to make your voice heard. This consultation on the third runway is open until 13 September and you can put your views to your MP too. We’ll also be helping to organise a demo to take place outside the courts as the hearing begins – follow us @friends_earth or sign up to our newsletter by visiting friendsoftheearth.uk to be kept updated on this.

Boris Johnson has previously said that he’d lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop the expansion project and has recently said that he’s keeping a keen eye on the court case. Let’s not let him forget these promises.

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