Hearing begins at Supreme Court after scheme was blocked by Court of Appeal judges in February

Lawyers for Heathrow airport told the Supreme Court today that construction of a third runway would not be completed until 2030, if the scheme is allowed to go ahead.

The revised date would mean a further two-year delay for the beleaguered £14bn expansion project, which was ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal in February following a challenge by environmental campaigners.

It had been hoped that the third runway could be built by 2028.

Speaking on the first day of a two-day online hearing as the airport attempts to overturn the February ruling, Heathrow lawyer David Anderson said that the airport had no intention of abandoning the plans. “My instructions are very clear on this: Heathrow Airport Limited does still wish to construct the northwest runway,” he said. 

He added that construction would not be completed until 2030, by which time the damage to the aviation sector wrought by the covid-19 pandemic would be a “distant memory”.


Source: Heathrow Airport

The third runway was blocked by a Court of Appeal ruling in February

The plans were initially approved by parliament in 2018 before being blocked by judges this year.

In that landmark ruling, lawyers for environmental campaign groups Plan B and Friends of the Earth persuaded the Court of Appeal that then transport secretary Chris Grayling had failed to take into account the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the Paris climate agreement.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the national policy statement supporting the scheme was “necessarily incompatible” with the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions as part of the Paris agreement.

It was the first court ruling in the world to be based on the Paris agreement and,  despite fears that it might trigger challenges to other major infrastructure projects in the UK and abroad, the government did not challenge the decision.

The airport has been arguing today that, regardless of oversights made by Grayling in 2018, the scheme’s planning process would be held to account by the government and would be refused if it breached the UK’s climate obligations.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We fully expect to be held to account by government through the planning process. 

”The Airports National Policy Statement makes clear that approval for expansion would be refused if it would have a material impact on the UK’s ability to meet its carbon reduction obligations.”

The spokesperson added: “Given the timescales required to deliver complex infrastructure of this scale in the UK, it’s critical that we get on with laying the groundwork today for future operations that will be essential for a successful global Britain in the decade after Brexit.” 

The Supreme Court is not expected to make its decision before January 2021.


The Heathrow expansion’s long journey to being ruled illegal

December 2003: Tony Blair’s Labour government publishes plans for a third runway at Heathrow, arguing that expansion is needed to keep pace with other European airports.

January 2009: The plans are given the green light by Gordon Brown, despite opposition from residents, environmental activists and many of his own MPs.

October 2009: Opposition leader David Cameron states that he will block Heathrow expansion.

May 2010: The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, led by Cameron, rules out plans for a third runway.

September 2012: The Airports Commission is set up to look at potential airport expansions and revives the idea of a third runway at Heathrow.

July 2015: The commission recommends Heathrow should get a new runway.

July 2017: Heathrow scales back proposals for a new terminal to reduce project costs.

June 2018: Revised plans with a £14bn price tag are approved by Cabinet, on the condition that it will be privately funded.

June 25, 2018: Trade minister Greg Hands resigns from government to vote against the National Policy Statement (NPS) - effectively outline planning permission for the third runway. Boris Johnson, who previously vowed to ‘lie down in front of bulldozers’ to stop the expansion, is abroad in Afghanistan when MPs vote in favour by a majority of 296.

December 2019: Now prime minister, Boris Johnson does not change official policy on Heathrow but says he will ‘find a way’ of honouring his bulldozer pledge.

February 2020: The Court of Appeal rules that the NPS was unlawful as the government had not considered its obligations under the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The Government does not appeal the case, but Heathrow states its intention to take it to the Supreme Court.

April 2020: The airport says all expansion plans will be pushed back by at least two years due to the disruption caused by covid-19.

May 2020: Heathrow admits it could be 10 to 15 years before the airport needs a third runway due to the crisis.