Heathrow court judgement “wrong” and “out of step with the world”

Press release
The High Court dismissed Friends of the Earth's climate case against a third runway at Heathrow, but activists vow to continue the fight to stop expansion.
  Published:  01 May 2019    |      2 minute read

Today’s High Court decision to dismiss Friends of the Earth’s climate case against a third runway at Heathrow airport is legally and morally wrong and “out of step with the world” says the green group as it considers the possibility of appeal.

Friends of the Earth took the government to court for failing to properly consider climate change and sustainable development when approving a third runway at Heathrow. Represented by law firm Leigh Day, they argued that the government’s Airports National Policy Statement was unlawful as it breached sustainable development and climate duties in the Planning Act 2008. Primarily because – as the government admitted – it had not considered the Paris Accord and the needs of future generations related to it.

However, the case at the High Court did not succeed. There were a total of five claimants also taking other cases against the government, objecting to the expansion of Heathrow airport on a variety of grounds, but none of the claimants succeeded.

On the climate case the court ruled that the Secretary of State did not have to consider Paris but only the targets and policy under the Climate Change Act, even though it is accepted those targets do not go far enough.

Will Rundle, Friends of the Earth’s Head of Legal, said:

“On a day when parliament is being asked to declare a climate emergency and just before the independent Committee on Climate Change is expected to advise the government to tighten its belt on climate-wrecking emissions, this decision feels completely out of step with the real world around us.

“Heathrow airport is already the single biggest climate polluter in the UK, expansion will only exacerbate the problem. Parliament’s decision to green-light Heathrow was morally wrong, but today we believe the courts have got it legally wrong too. We are examining the judgement in detail and will consider all options including the possibility of appealing.

“The climate case against the third runway is growing stronger every day and Heathrow bosses face many more major hurdles before they can bring in the bulldozers. This fight will go on, the issue is just too big to drop.”

Rowan Smith, Solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“Our client Friends of the Earth is of course bitterly disappointed with the result, particularly after all the hard work involved in its tireless campaign against the damaging climate change impacts of a third runway. We will reflect on the judgment and advise our client on the prospects of any appeal. Despite the court’s decision in favour of the government we expect that this will be overtaken by tomorrow’s planned publication of advice from the Climate Change Committee on the need to revise the UK’s current climate change targets in line with the Paris Agreement. We hope that the Committee’s advice will positively move forward the arguments that Friends of the Earth have advanced throughout these legal proceedings.”

Editor’s notes:

  1. In this case Friends of the Earth were represented by specialist Barristers: David Wolfe QC (Matrix Chambers); Andrew Parkinson (Landmark Chambers) and Pete Lockley (11KBW Chambers).