Councils take action against Heathrow expansion

Several West London councils, with the support of Greenpeace and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, have formally opened legal proceedings against the government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow on the grounds that it will have a detrimental effect on air quality, noise pollution and surface access in the surrounding area, as well as on climate change.

Planes waiting on the runway
Planes waiting on the runway
Rob Cole

A group of West London and Berkshire local authorities have formally notified the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, that they are set to challenge the government’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow airport through the courts.

MPs voted in favour of building a new runway at Heathrow on Monday 25 June by 415 votes to 119, a comfortable margin for the government after Labour gave its MPs a free vote.

Now, the London Boroughs of Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond and Hammersmith and Fulham, along with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, have come out in formal opposition to the decision. With support from Greenpeace and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the group formally notified Grayling that they are seeking a judicial review into the government’s decision to give policy support for a third runway at Heathrow in the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS).

The councils are challenging the expansion on the grounds that the project would have negative consequences for the local area in terms of air quality, noise pollution and surface access, as well as contributing to the wider threat of climate change. On air quality in particular, the councils assert that the government has misapplied the law governing the safety of the UK’s air, while on surface access it is claimed that the NPS fails to recognise the scale of the challenge to accommodate additional trips without unacceptable effects on the transport network and from traffic pollution.

Commenting on the judicial action, Councillor Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, said: “The government has misunderstood and misapplied the law on air quality despite having been taken to court and lost many times. Its decision in favour of the third runway should therefore be quashed.”

Councillor Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council, added: “The councils have shown extraordinary patience. We have given the government numerous opportunities to address our concerns and answer our questions. All the evidence shows that a new Heathrow runway will be bad for the environment in our boroughs and bad for the health of our residents.”

Supporters of the £14-billion expansion, which could be completed as early as 2026 if it goes ahead, say that the new runway will create around 60,000 jobs and generate a total economic benefit of £70 billion by 2050.

However, Dylan Baxendale, Green Councillor for Hampton Wick, has sought to refute these claims in a letter to the editor of the Richmond & Twickenham Times, responding to a letter previously published by the newspaper which supported the expansion. Baxendale wrote: ‘There is no business case for expansion, as the new runway will be taken up by short-haul flights, and only add three long-haul flights. The Department of Transport’s (DfT) own figures show that without a third runway, all UK long-haul and domestic business passenger demand is met until 2050.

‘In 2016, the DfT downgraded the economic benefits to £61bn over 60 years. For the whole of the UK that’s just £1bn per year. With regard to jobs, yes, new jobs will be created, but they could also be created by insulating all homes in the UK, investing in solar and wind energy or putting money into our NHS.

‘More importantly, the expansion of Heathrow would be a catastrophic environmental disaster. The noise and air pollution created by 25 per cent more flights, the gridlock on the roads, the communities being destroyed to build the runaway, over 700 homes to [sic] demolished and adding more planes to what is already the busiest airspace in the world. This is all a plan for disaster, not only to the local residents, but to the whole UK. Adding more planet-heating carbon dioxide (CO2) will increase climate chaos and make it impossible for the UK to meet its commitments to reduce CO2 that we signed up to with the 2015 Paris agreement.’  

The government must now respond to the councils’ formal letter before action. If the Transport Secretary does not agree to a quashing of the NPS, then the local authorities will proceed with judicial review proceedings.

No to Heathrow