The on-again-off-again story of expanding air capacity at London Heathrow is apparently back on again, after a unanimous judgement by the UK Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision by The Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court found that the UK government’s Airports National Policy Statement had been correct to base itself on domestic legislation rather than the government’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. The ANPS effectively gave the go-ahead for a third runway at the UK’s largest airport.
The lower court ruling said that ANPS was unlawful because it failed “to take into account the Government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change.”
In reversing the decision, the Supreme Court said there was evidence that the Secretary of State had taken the Paris Agreement into account and, to the extent that its obligations were already covered by measures in the Climate Change Act 2008, ensured that these were incorporated into the ANPS framework.
Since then, the governments’ environmental commitments have been strengthened. The decision means that Heathrow can now apply for planning permission for the third runway. Nevertheless, the previous estimate of the third runway being operational by 2030 has probably slipped now as a result of the dramatic fall in traffic due to the COVID pandemic that has seen Heathrow slip from its top spot as Europe’s busiest airport.
Heathrow officials argue that global aviation will recover by the mid 2020s and then the runway will be needed in the next decade. “Demand for aviation will recover from COVID,” reads a statement from the airport. “The additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.”