But environmental groups vow to block £14bn project in planning

The construction industry has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to allow a third runway to be built at Heathrow Airport.

This morning the UK’s highest court overturned a decision by the Court of Appeal that the government’s approval of the scheme, which was outlined in the Airports National Policy Statement, had beeen unlawful because it ignored the country’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

Today’s ruling means the £14bn project can now proceed.


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The panel of five justices overruled the decision made by the Court of Appeal in February. They decided that former transport secretary Chris Grayling had acted within the law when he approved the scheme by relying on domestic legislation rather than taking into account the Paris commitment to limit global warming to below 2°C.

Industry immediately welcomed the news that the project can go ahead, saying it would create millions of jobs.

Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs at engineeering body CECA, said: “The £14bn expansion will be privately funded, which means it will be built at no cost to the taxpayer and will address the fact that Heathrow has been operating at full capacity for many years.

“While the aviation industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, we believe this will be a temporary phenomenon and will quickly be reversed once covid-19 vaccinations have been widely rolled out.”

She added that it was “extremely important that this nationally significant infrastructure project is delivered, rather than being kicked into the long grass as it has been so many times before”.

Jolyon Brewis, a partner at Grimshaw, the architecture practice that designed the expansion, said he hoped the decision would give confidence to UK airports to start building again, but more sustainably.

He said: “This will also require the government to reaffirm its Airports National Policy Statement to help our aviation sector plan for the future of air travel to link British people and goods to the rest of the world. Grimshaw is ready to help design this future when required.”

Last week Grimshaw reaffirmed its commitment to Architects and Construction Declares, twin sustainability pledges. Some construction professionals in the movement argue aviation is incompatible with hitting the UK’s climate goals - the reason for the Heathrow legal challenge in the first place.

But Hannah Vickers, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), welcomed the ruling and said that while the carbon challenges for the aviation sector were well understood, expansion at Heathrow was not necessarily irreconcilable with a carbon-free future.

She said: “Today’s court ruling does mean that the major project is one step closer however, and the £14bn plan is proof that private investment can play a key role in our economic recovery.

“The core take-away is that we should update our National Policy Statements to ensure they are compatible with net zero ambitions. This would ensure the right future infrastructure projects can proceed with confidence while avoiding unnecessary uncertainty and legal delays.”

But Friends of the Earth, whose historic legal victory was the one overturned, insisted the judgement does not mean the project will go ahead.

Will Rundle, head of legal at the charity, said: “This judgment is no ‘green light’ for expansion. It makes clear that full climate considerations remain to be addressed and resolved at the planning stage.

“Heathrow expansion remains very far from certain and we now look forward to stopping the third runway in the planning arena.”