Airport expansion plans deemed ‘legal’

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Surrey Wildlife Trust is disappointed at the Supreme Court’s recent ruling (16th December), overturning a Court of Appeal decision earlier in the year that had blocked Heathrow’s expansion plans on environmental grounds.

The united group of most-affected Wildlife Trusts remains opposed to the current expansion plans for Heathrow, which includes a third runway, as these are fundamentally at odds with the immediate need to tackle the nature and climate crisis.

The proposals would result in the destruction of natural greenspace, including the complete loss of Harmondsworth Moor (part-managed by SWT); have a potentially devastating impact on waterbodies with international importance for birds; and would concrete over four tributary rivers of the Thames, with a fifth dramatically compromised in being diverted through a landfill site.

In February 2020, the Court of Appeal found that the Government had failed to take into account the UK’s climate change commitments under the ‘Paris Agreement’ with its Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS), which supported a third runway at Heathrow. The Supreme Court has now overturned that decision and found the ANPS to be legal.

Whilst one major obstacle to a third runway may have been removed, the decision to expand Heathrow remains fundamentally highly questionable. The world has now changed even further from when the original decision was made. The demand for air travel has plummeted as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and technology has responded to significantly reduce people’s need to travel. To fly presents the epitome of ‘unsustainable’ travel and with the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in 2021, the UK Government must therefore show global leadership in withholding all its airport expansion plans and instead invest in more sustainable forms of transport, whilst serving to restore our natural environment.

The critical importance of green spaces and being close to nature for our health and well-being have been recognised as never before during the current pandemic. The Trust believes these damaging expansion proposals belong to an unsustainable past, and are increasingly out-of-step with the changes we need to make for nature’s recovery, people’s well-being and the stability of our climate. And for similar reasons, this also applies to the Government’s ANPS.

The Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Revolution contains an ambition to develop zero-emission aircraft, but the necessary technology is far from a reality and current air travel remains hugely polluting. For that reason, we urge the Government to revisit its plans for Heathrow, live up to its ambition to build-back better and accelerate our essential path to achieve net zero by scrapping all current airport expansion plans for the realistic future.