How to Stop 3rdRunway - apply new Govt net-zero Law to "ALL" infrastructure projects

The Supreme Court's verdict does not mean Heathrow expansion now has the green light. It's simply one hurdle cleared. Expansion faces the following further hurdles.

Legal avenues

Plan B Earth have announced they will launch proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the basis that Chris Grayling's reliance on the dangerous and discredited 2'C temperature limit is inconsistent with the right to life, protected by Article 2 of the Convention. ECtHR has nothing to do with EU/Brexit. It was set up by Churchill and others post WWII.

Any future planning application that Heathrow submit will still be challengeable in the courts.

Government - Airports National Policy statement/climate change agenda

Government did not challenge the Court of Appeal ruling. They should now withdraw the Airports National Policy Statement on the basis that the UK's Net Zero emissions target is a fundamental change of circumstances since the original decision in June 2018. The Planning Act 2008 enables the Secretary of State to consider any significant change in any circumstances on the basis of which any policy in the statement was decided. Government should make a truly national assessment of aviation policy, rather than one that is South East and Heathrow dominated.

The climate change agenda is fast-changing. In June 2019, the UK adopted a Net Zero emissions target by 2050. The Climate Change Committee advised the Government in December 2020 that there should be no net expansion of airports. This means that if a 3rd runway goes ahead that there will need to be operational restrictions and potentially closure of some regional airports, resulting in job losses in those regions. In this scenario, the Government will need to identify which airports they will be prepared to allow to close or substantially reduce operations.

Planning Process

Before work can progress, Heathrow Airport will need to obtain a "Development Consent Order", which can and is likely to be subject to further legal challenges. As the Supreme Court made clear, the planning stage of the process will need to consider climate obligations in place at that time, including the UK's Net Zero 2050 target. Heathrow expansion implies 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from UK aviation by 2050, so that's an obvious problem.

Urge Heathrow to quickly set out a timeline for when they'll submit their application to the Planning Inspectorate - as local communities deserve to know, not least because of impact of continued blight and uncertainties to residents' health and wellbeing. There is no time constraint under the Planning Act which means Heathrow may not put in an application for well over a year, possibly much longer. Without support, we are deeply concerned about the mental anguish of continued blight in our communities, particularly among elderly residents.

COVID impacts

And of course, the impacts of COVID, both short and in the long term, some of which will not yet be known. Heathrow is currently focused on recovery from the pandemic, with the airport's 2019 demand levels not expected to return for a number of years, so it is not certain a 3rd runway will ever be needed.

Good Law Project

18th Dec 2020 With noted environmentalist, Dale Vince, we have written to the Government to require that it reviews the Airports National Policy Statement - or we will bring legal proceedings. The claim, if successful, will mean Heathrow Airport expansion will have to meet much tougher environmental standards to get the go-ahead.

The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Airports NPS was not unlawful for failing to treat the Paris Agreement as government policy. But the Court was careful to confine its reasoning to the legal regime that existed in June 2018 - i.e. prior to Government making its net-zero by 2050 commitment.

Since the third runway at Heathrow was approved in 2018, the UK Government has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 and on 4 December it pledged to cut carbon emissions by 68% by 2030. But as matters stand, Heathrow Airport can seek permission to expand under the earlier, laxer, regime.

We believe this is unlawful and Government must revise and update the Airports NPS to take account of its new net-zero commitment in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 through a 2019 amendment.

We think the litigation has a strong chance of succeeding - the legal point in this challenge is basically the same as that on which the Government conceded in our judicial review earlier this week over the need to review the outdated Energy National Policy Statements. Moreover, the Government did not appeal the Court of Appeal's judgment in February this year which ruled against the third runway for environmental reasons. And Boris Johnson, with a constituency near Heathrow, has been a longstanding critic of the expansion.

Theresa May's final act as Prime Minister was to set a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target - making the UK the first major economy to do so. But setting targets on its own does nothing to help halt climate change - we actually need to hit them. And that means we should only approve new transport infrastructure when it is consistent with these targets.

It's not too late to stop Heathrow expansion. If you are in a position to do so, you can support the legal challenge here.

Government is due to respond by 18th January 2021. If it does not concede the need for a review, we will issue judicial review proceedings.

Thank you for your support,

Jolyon Maugham QC
Director of Good Law Project


"The UK has set a world-leading net zero target, the first major economy to do so, but simply setting the target is not enough - we need to achieve it. Failing to act will result in natural catastrophes and changing weather patterns, as well as significant economic damage, supply chain disruption and displacement of populations."

Those are the words earlier this month of the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

And we intend to hold the Government to this statement.

In March of this year we wrote to Alok Sharma asking him to commit to reviewing the Energy National Policy Statement in light of the Government's commitment to a net-zero target. Our planning frameworks, we said, could no longer presume in favour of carbon-emitting energy infrastructure. He refused to do so, and so we commenced legal proceedings. Earlier this week he conceded and the Energy NPS will be reviewed.

As things stand, Heathrow Airport could seek permission to expand under the lax planning regime created before the Government set its "world-leading net-zero target". We think that's unlawful. We think Government needs to revise the "Airports National Policy Statement" to take account of the net-zero commitment in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008. The legal point in this challenge is fundamentally identical to that on which Mr Sharma conceded in our March challenge.

We wrote yesterday to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, making that point and inviting him to agree to review and update the Airports National Policy Statement before he is asked to grant a Development Consent Order to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. If he refuses, we will issue judicial review proceedings with a request for urgent determination.

We are, of course, aware of the recent Supreme Court decision on Heathrow but the Supreme Court was careful to confine its reasoning to the legal regime that existed in 2018 - before the net-zero target was introduced.

Boris Johnson won't need to "lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction of that third runway." He'll merely need to ensure that the proposed development of Heathrow is considered under the legal regime that prevails today.

It's not too late to stop Heathrow expansion.

Good Law Project and Dale Vince have instructed leading international firm Hausfeld & Co LLP. Hausfeld will be paid nothing unless the litigation succeeds. Our Counsel team is Phillippa Kaufmann QC and Alex Goodman (the latter of whom we instructed on our successful Energy NPS challenge) who are being paid at significantly below market rates.

10% of the funds raised will be a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. If there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other environmental litigation we bring.