Politics Simplified: Heathrow Airport Court Ruling – What Next?


Plans for Heathrow’s third runway have been ground to a halt today after the Court of Appeal ruled that plans for the third runway did not meet the commitments of the 2016 UN Paris Climate Agreement.

The Paris Agreement commits the countries signed up to it to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The Court of Appeal found that the Government’s policy on the third runway was incompatible with reducing carbon emissions and is the first of its kind around the world.

The Lord Justice Lindblom said that:

The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State in the preparation of the NPS [the Government’s proposals]and an explanation given as to how it was taken into account, but it was not.

The judgement throws plans to open the new runway by 2026 into disarray and is a landmark ruling for environmental campaigners including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who brought the case against Heathrow.


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Supporters of the expansion have expressed concern that jobs, trade and economic growth would be negatively affected by the decision.

The British Chambers of Commerce, a network of tens of thousands of businesses said in a statement that:

Business communities across the UK will be bitterly disappointed that plans for a world-leading hub airport are now at risk.

Without expansion, firms risk losing crucial regional connectivity and access to key markets across the world.

What Next?

As an interested party, Heathrow Airport Holdings, the private company that owns the airport could appeal the court’s decision.

Heathrow put out a statement today saying:

We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful. In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.


The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, also confirmed on Twitter today that the Government would not appeal the decision as the expansion would have to be ‘industry-led’.


The Conservative 2019 Manifesto stated that the proposed third runway is a private project and:

It is for Heathrow to demonstrate that it can meet its air quality and noise obligations…The scheme will receive no new public money.

If the Government brought back new proposals that the courts found to be compliant with the Paris Agreement then a third runway could be pushed through. However, given the Court of Appeal’s decision and the greater attention being paid to the effects of climate change, the political risks of forcing through a third runway at Heathrow could have increased dramatically.

Boris Johnson, as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, publicly opposed the third runway. In 2015 he claimed that he would ‘lie down in front of those bulldozers’ rather than see a third runway. If the government put forward further proposals for an extension, Johnson may face further political attacks for his policies on climate change and pollution. In May 2019 he argued that:

Heathrow have a long way to go before they can meet the environmental standards demanded by law.


This ruling does not, however, rule out the expansion of other UK airports. It is possible then, that plans for an extension of Gatwick may come back into the fold if those plans are more compliant with the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Proposals to build an island airport on the Thames Estuary were refloated by Boris Johnson in 2016. This radical proposal could now be looked upon more favourably by the Government given the Court’s decision.

Whatever happens next, it is unlikely any expansions will take place soon. Environmental campaigners can rest easy for now.


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