Councils disappointed by court decision on Heathrow

Wednesday 1 May: Councils are disappointed in the High Court's failure to quash the government's Airport National Policy Statement (ANPS), regarding Heathrow expansion. Councils argue this could bring long-term damage to the health of millions of Londoners.

They warn that large areas of London and the Home Counties will be affected by noise from the north-west runway.  For many London boroughs it means a substantial increase in the number of communities affected.

The local authorities had argued that the third runway could only be built by demolishing thousands of homes, adding large increases in road traffic and making life noisier and unhealthier for millions of Londoners.

The court has refused all the applications for judicial review of the ANPS essentially because it has decided that at this policy stage the decision to support a third runway at Heathrow needs only meet a low level of judicial scrutiny. 

There will be another stage where the damage caused to life and health and the environment by a third runway and its associated traffic (damage causing air pollution, noise pollution and contributing to climate change) will be more closely scrutinised. Objections to runway three must be heard then and any decision to approve it will be open to challenge through the courts.

The councils said today that they would continue to explore every avenue possible to protect their residents from the health and environmental consequences of a third runway.

Hillingdon Council Leader, Ray Puddifoot said: "As I said at the start of this legal challenge this is just the first round in what would be a long fight that ultimately we would win. Whilst the court recognised the importance of people's health and wellbeing caused by surface access, air quality and noise issues they accepted the Secretary of State for Transport's argument that whilst there was no realistic solution to these issues at this time they could be dealt with at the next stage of the process (the Development Consent Order) and pointed out that should the Secretary of State grant a Development Consent Order it could be the subject of legal challenge on grounds of error of law.

"We remain convinced that the devastating consequences of the proposed expansion, which go far beyond the loss of over 1000 homes and 3750 blighted in Hillingdon should not have been put forward based on such a dangerous assumption. Whilst we await the view of our legal team on the next stage of this fight for the avoidance of doubt we have set aside sufficient funding to defend our environment and the health and wellbeing of our people for however long it takes to do so."

Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council, said: "Today's ruling is hugely disappointing for Londoners. It shows that the government can drive through expansion plans without properly considering the full environmental and health impacts. But it does not mean the runway will ever be built. It still faces enormous legal obstacles particularly around air pollution."

The councils say that any new runway would run a very high risk of breaching air quality limits and, unless air quality obligations can be satisfied, building and opening a third runway would be difficult. 

The councils argue that no government could allow a runway to be built that would damage the health of 121,000 people in the area and contribute to thousands of premature deaths.

Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, said: "This is not the end of the matter. We defeated a previous government on Heathrow back in 2010. We won then for our residents and we can win again in the future. A runway that breaches legal air quality limits simply cannot be built and opened. Nothing in today's ruling changes that.

"The local authorities have fought a long battle to protect our communities from the airport's relentless demand for growth. If democratically-elected councils won't stand up for their residents' interests and protect their quality of life - who will?"

Duncan Sharkey, Managing Director of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, added: "The underlying obstacles to this runway haven't changed. Government didn't inform communities across south and west London about how they would be affected by noise and to what extent.

"The flightpaths were drawn in such a way that the numbers of people affected were minimised. This meant the health and environmental costs of the north west runway were understated.

"The five local authorities which brought the challenge are all committed to defending the quality of life of local people. Few, if any, of our communities will escape noise and many will be affected seven days a week."

Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said: "When the Paris Accord is finally ratified it will be a game changer. Heathrow expansion will breach the agreement which will mean that this issue has to be revisited. The government knows this and is knowingly damaging our environment."

The councils have pledged to maintain detailed scrutiny of all aspects of the airport's planning application for the runway (Development Consent Order). This will include the detail of how the airport intends to meet its obligations in key areas such as noise, air quality and surface access.  This detail will be subject to examination at the public inquiry stage with potential for further challenge in the courts.

The Secretary of State's decision in favour of Heathrow's north-west runway proposal was challenged by Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond upon Thames and Windsor and Maidenhead councils. They were joined in the Judicial Review by the Mayor of London and Greenpeace.

Page last updated: 09 Feb 2022