In a massive victory for British environmental activists, Heathrow Airport’s plans to commence construction on a Grimshaw Architects master-planned third runway have been grounded. The Court of Appeal deemed that construction of the third runway to be unlawful for not meeting governmental climate commitments, although work on the controversial $18 billion megaproject, which was planned for completion in 2028, can move ahead if it complies with established climate policy in the future.
“Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment. This Govt won’t appeal today’s judgment given our manifesto makes clear any #Heathrow expansion will be industry led,” tweeted Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in reaction to the news.
As British architectural publication Building Design (BD) notes, this is the first court ruling in the world to abide by commitments laid out within the Paris Agreement and could “trigger challenges against other major infrastructure projects in the UK and abroad.” In other words, this is a huge deal with major potential implications on the built environment.
The BBC reports that Heathrow’s owner and operator, Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, has vowed to challenge the historic decision. The government, however, will not. Heathrow was one of several major airports in the U.K. and beyond owned by the London-based company formerly known as BAA until it was forced to sell the airports off—Gatwick Airport, Edinburgh Airport, and Glasgow Airport among them—in a monopoly break-up initiated by the Competition Commission.
Heathrow is currently Europe’s third busiest airport based on passenger traffic and the seventh busiest in the world. A third runaway would have permitted an estimated 700 additional take-offs and landings per day, according to The Guardian. This, of course, would lead to a sharp uptake in emissions, a factor not entirely accounted for in the expansion plans.
“We think the appeals court got it wrong,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a statement. “We have a very strong legal case, and we will be making that very firmly.”
Before reaching the Court of Appeal, plaintiffs had their case dismissed by the High Court in May of last year.
BREAKING: We won! Today we blocked the Tory government plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Today’s judgment is a major victory for all Londoners who are passionate about tackling the climate emergency and cleaning up our air. https://t.co/59MEn2X6Lw
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) February 27, 2020
While Heathrow officials vowed to keep the battle going, the unified front of climate campaigners that brought the case to the court, with support from various local councils and London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, found the decision to be worthy of celebration. Kahn’s predecessor, current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, also opposed the construction of a third runway, and in a typically flamboyant manner.
“This judgment has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions,” Will Rundle, head of legal affairs at Friends of the Earth, told the BBC. “It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”
“The third runway is already on its knees over costs, noise, air pollution, habitat loss and lack of access, and now Heathrow has yet another impossibly high hurdle to clear,” added John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace U.K., which was another plaintiff in the case. “Boris Johnson should now put Heathrow out of its misery and cancel the third runway once and for all. No ifs, no buts, no lies, no U-turns.”
As mentioned, the ruling does not permanently block Heathrow from building a third runway. It simply puts an indefinite pause on the proceedings due to the fact that the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) does not abide by the Paris Agreement as required by law.
Reads the ruling:
“We have not decided, and could not decide, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake.”
BD reached out to Grimshaw Architects for comment regarding the court’s decision but did not immediately hear back. BD did note, however, that other architects had taken to social media to express approval of the ruling. Grimshaw has been working on a “sustainable but affordable” expansion master plan since 2016, although the push for a third runway—and pushback against it—has been active for over a decade.