In Depth

Will the Heathrow expansion go ahead?

Speculation grows that Boris Johnson will abandon plans after court backs opponents

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow were thrown into doubt today after the Court of Appeal in London ruled that the expansion would be unlawful.

Three judges said the proposal in its current form was incompatible with the UK’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The case was brought by environmental groups, councils and the Mayor of London.

So is this the end of the third runway?

“The judges said that in future, a third runway could go ahead, as long as it fits with the UK’s climate policy,” says the BBC.

Heathrow plans to challenge the ruling, but the government has not launched an appeal, says the broadcaster.

Ahead of the decision, The Times reported that Boris Johnson looked likely to accept the judgment, “effectively killing off the project for the foreseeable future”.

Johnson’s official spokesman told the newspaper yesterday that Heathrow still needed to demonstrate a “realistic” business case.

“I have a hunch that Boris is not going to appeal it,” a senior Tory MP told the Financial Times.

Before becoming prime minister, Johnson threatened to lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent the expansion (his Uxbridge constituency lies under the airport’s flight path).

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The new £14bn runway has long been proposed for the northwest of the airport. It would allow the airport to handle 756,000 flights a year - up from 473,000 in 2019 - and grow to accommodate 142 million passengers.

The independent Airports Commission, chaired by the economist Sir Howard Davies, found in 2015 that an enlarged Heathrow would boost UK growth by £150bn over 60 years and create 60,000 new jobs.

However, it would also mean 950 acres of land was claimed and 761 homes demolished.

In 2016, the independent Committee on Climate Change found that the business plan for Heathrow expansion projects a 15% increase in aviation emissions by 2050.

Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said today’s ruling was a “huge win for the climate” and left the third runway plans “in tatters”.

However, The Times notes that the decision “will spark a huge backlash from business leaders who have campaigned fiercely in favour of Heathrow expansion”.

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