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Green light for controversial Heathrow third runway plans

Publish date: 12 June 2018
Issue Number: 4
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Pollution

Plans for a controversial third runway at Heathrow airport have been given the go-ahead by the Cabinet, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has announced. According to a report in The Independent, the divisive project was approved by the Cabinet’s economic sub committee, before being rubber-stamped by Theresa May’s top team last week. MPs will be given a vote on the scheme by early July, although hardened critics of the project such as Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, will reportedly be allowed to be out of the country on the day of the vote. The decision faced criticism from other prominent Tory MPs, including former Cabinet Minister Justine Greening, who said: ‘This decision is not only wrong for the UK and its competitiveness, it’s wrong for London communities who will be blighted by the pollution from an expanded Heathrow.’ Grayling insisted air quality was a ‘broader problem for London and other cities that will need to be dealt with well before we get to 2026’, adding:’That’s why the government has brought forward its air quality proposals and that’s why we are determined to see changes in our society that tackle the air quality issue.’ Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said Labour would consider the proposed Heathrow expansion against four tests. He told MPs: ‘Expansion should only happen if it can effectively deliver on the capacity demands, if noise and air quality issues are fully addressed, if the UK’s climate change obligations are met in their entirety, and that growth across the country is supported. We owe it to future generations to get all of these factors absolutely right, but if the correct balance isn’t found then the law courts will quite rightly intervene.’

Full report in The Independent

Activists opposed to the government’s Heathrow expansion plans have vowed to escalate their protests in the coming weeks to avoid what they say would be an ‘environmental catastrophe’. A report in The Guardian notes that the warning follows a week of direct action in which eight people have been arrested as environmental opposition to the third runway proposal grows. A group including a priest, a farmer and a pensioner pledged to begin an indefinite hunger strike on Saturday in protest. Alex Thompson, from the Vote no Heathrow campaign which is behind the hunger strike, said: ‘A third runway will kill more people through hotter droughts and more powerful hurricanes, whilst helping a wealthy corporate elite pocket some government money and hop off more easily to their second homes.’ The escalating protests come as it emerged that a coalition of four local authorities and environmental group Greenpeace are considering mounting a fresh legal challenge to the plan. Simon Dudley, leader of Windsor and Maidenhead borough council, said: ‘It is highly likely a number, if not all four of the councils, will come together to challenge this decision in the courts if it is passed in Parliament in its current form.’ Environment lawyers at ClientEarth, who have successfully taken the government to court three times over their ‘illegally poor’ air pollution plans, have also raised questions about the legality of the government’s proposals. CEO James Thornton said: ‘It’s also very difficult to see how this could be done given the UK’s climate commitments. We’ll be examining the final plans with interest.’

Full report in The Guardian