Victory for campaigners as Heathrow expansion ruled illegal

Marking the end of an ongoing legal battle, the Court of Appeal has today (27 February) ruled that the expansion of Heathrow airport is unlawful on climate grounds – a historic victory in the fight for environmental protection.

Planes waiting on the runway
Planes waiting on the runway
Imogen Benson

Climate activists are today (27 February) celebrating the Court of Appeal’s decision to rule plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport unlawful.

With judges concluding that the government had failed to consider its commitment to climate change mitigation, the landmark ruling marks the end of an ongoing legal battle, which had been brought forward by campaign groups including Friends of the Earth, Plan B and Greenpeace when the runway plans were first announced in June 2018. 

The airport expansion was set to increase the number of flights at Heathrow by 50 per cent, increasing what is already the UK’s largest single source of carbon emissions – a situation at odds with the government’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 – after MPs voted in favour in 2018.

Campaigners from various groups saw challenges to the expansion rejected in the High Court in May 2019 but these rulings have now been overruled by the Court of Appeal’s decision today.

After Boris Johnson infamously promised to “lie down” in front of the bulldozers to stop the expansion, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today confirmed that the government will not be appealing the Court of Appeal’s judgement. 

Commenting on the news, Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “The Court of Appeal has made the decision that the government was too cowardly to make itself. Heathrow’s expansion, or any airport expansion, is not compatible with climate science. It’s not even compatible with the UK’s own climate targets.

“This has saved Boris Johnson from the inconvenience of lying down in front of the bulldozers. But it should not have been left to the courts to rule on this. If government commitments on climate are to mean anything, they have to result in the right decision being made on big infrastructure projects. 

“All airport expansion should now be stopped, as should massive road-building projects. Instead we must invest in the infrastructure which will protect us from the worst impacts of the climate emergency and cut our carbon emissions.

“The terrible flooding this winter has given us a glimpse of what the future looks like. It’s time the government stopped pulling the wool over people’s eyes about past achievements and takes the action needed to address the climate emergency.

“Thanks to everyone who’s worked so hard to bring this court action.”

Magdalena Heuwieser from anti-aviation campaign network Stay Grounded commented: “This decision is a milestone in climate litigation! It gives hope to hundreds of communities around the world in their struggles against destructive airport projects: indigenous people, farmers and citizens who face losing their land and homes due to airport projects. But today we saw it is possible to stop them and preserve a liveable planet for us and future generations. 

“We congratulate all the groups who are active against the third runway, including our members ‘Plan B’ who brought the challenge to court. If we stand together, we can stop the aviation industry’s dangerous growth addiction and create a just transport system that works for the people and the planet.”