Court of Appeal says Heathrow’s £14bn third runway plan is illegal under climate change agreements in a ruling met with dismay by Liverpool city region business leaders. Tony McDonough reports
A court’s decision that Heathrow’s proposed third runway would be illegal has dealt a blow to Liverpool John Lennon Airport’s expansion plans and to Merseyside’s growth ambitions.
Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday morning that the Government did not adequately take into account the UK’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement when giving the go-ahead for the £14bn project.
Lord Justice Lindblom said: “The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State. The National Planning Statement was not produced as the law requires.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government would not appeal the court’s decision. He explained: “Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.”
However, Heathrow Airport itself is determined to push on with the project, saying it would appeal the court’s decision. In a statement, it said: “The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the Government – including on ‘noise’ and ‘air quality’ – apart from one which is eminently fixable.
“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. Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord.”
Liverpool Airport has been keen for many years to establish a hub link with Heathrow, allowing travellers to seamlessly connect from other parts of the world into Merseyside.
Previous attempts at hub connection, via Amsterdam with Flybe and via Dublin to North America with Aer Lingus, had not been successful. But LJLA believed a link via Heathrow stood a much greater chance of success. Heathrow had pledged to create a £10m fund for the development of regional routes should the fourth runway go ahead.
The airport’s strategic plan has a stated aim of growing passenger numbers from the current 5m a year up to 8m a year by 2030, pushing up its GVA contribution to the Liverpool city region to £625m a year and support 12,000 jobs. Although the plan isn’t dependent on a fourth runway at Heathrow, it would be advantageous.
The Appeal Court’s decision has been treated with dismay by Liverpool city region business leaders who believe our appeal as a destination for inward investment would be enhanced by a global hub link.
It will also be a blow to both shipyard and engineering firm Cammell Laird and the Port of Liverpool. Both businesses had been shortlisted as possible locations for the pre-assembly hubs needed for the third runway.
Frank McKenna, chief executive of Liverpool business lobby group, Downtown in Business, told LBN: “Downtown in Business have supported the plans to extend Heathrow and although I can appreciate the reasons for today’s decision the fact remains that the UK’s airport capacity needs to grow.
“The Government has indicated that they are not going to appeal this decision, so I await with interest their solution and plan ‘B’. Maybe there is an opportunity for regional airports to look at picking up the challenge – but that will mean an accelerated approach to the major infrastructure connectivity projects across the UK, such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“Brexit will create a whole range of difficulties that business will need to overcome in terms of international trading relations moving forward. A further barrier on the travel side of things is the last thing companies with ambitions to export need.”
And Paul Cherpeau, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chief executive, added: “It is imperative that our global connectivity is maintained and improved to enable the UK to do business across international markets.
“Investment in infrastructure is essential to increase our capacity as a country to achieve this. The expansion of Heathrow is important to achieving this aim, particularly given the potential improvements to regional connectivity it could enable.”
The legal challenge to the third runway at Heathrow had been brought by a number of environmental groups. One of the claimants, Friends of the Earth, welcomed the ruling. Its head of legal Will Rundle, said: “This ruling is an absolutely ground-breaking result for climate justice. We were fighting a project that would have had dire implications for present and future generations.”
But Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of industry body, Mersey Maritime, rejected that claim. He said: “While we understand the need to combat climate change, it is unlikely this court ruling will help that cause. It also represents a threat to the competitiveness of UK plc and, by extension, to that of the Liverpool city region.
“As we get set to enter a post-Brexit era, we need to explore all avenues to increase trade with the rest of the world and attract inward investment. Liverpool city region’s powerhouse maritime sector is now worth more than £4bn a year.
“We have the potential to help drive the UK’s economy over the coming decades. However, to realise that potential we need every structural asset we can get our hands on. We need increased capacity on rail, roads and in the air. Not building the third runway at Heathrow will not cut aviation capacity, it will simply push it elsewhere.”