Comments on Heathrow Airport Decision

Heathrow plane

The big news last week was the Appeal Court Decision to uphold the challenge by environmental groups to the approval of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport by the Government.

The basis for the Court’s decision was that the Government had ignored their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The Government denies that they had but have decided not to appeal the decision. However Heathrow Airport itself is to appeal to the Supreme Court as they believe they can meet the objections. The Appeal Court did not overturn previous High Court rejection of other challenges over air and noise pollution, traffic, and the cost of the runway so it’s not exactly a clear-cut victory.

However Boris Johnson has previously opposed the third runway perhaps because his Parliamentary constituency is Uxbridge which is badly affected by aircraft noise so it may be a convenient decision for him. It will avoid him having to lie down in front of bulldozers to stop it as he previously promised. One commentator described him as acting like Pontius Pilate, i.e. looking the other way and washing his hands of the matter.

So far as drivers are concerned this is surely good news. This is what I said in a previous blog post after the Government said it was pushing ahead in 2016: “It will bring major challenges to the road network because the new runway will have to run over the M25. So that will likely have to be moved into a tunnel. In addition the western side of the M25 is one of the most congested parts of the UK road network already and the extra traffic generated by Heathrow expansion will make that even worse. So widening of both the M25 and M4 is probably required. The costs of those improvements could be over £3 billion and it could take over 6 years to implement with no doubt a lot of traffic disruption while it is being built.

In addition the extra aircraft movements and more traffic will have negative environmental impacts in both air pollution and noise.

Comment: this was surely one of the worst decisions ever made by a UK Government. There were a number of better alternatives for airport expansion, including the encouragement of the use of other regional airports. Why does the whole country find it necessary to travel through Heathrow when smaller airports are altogether easier to use?”

Residents of West London will no doubt be overjoyed by this decision as they are badly affected by aircraft noise which certainly would be made worse by the extra flights a third runway would mean. Aircraft noise from Heathrow even affects distant parts of London such as the South-East to which this writer can personally testify.

Will this legal decision impact other transport projects such as HS2 (an environmental disaster on several grounds) or road building schemes? Not necessarily because the Government always has ultimate authority and can override any commitment to the Paris Agreement if they wished by an Act of Parliament and the Appeal Court legal decision is about the decision process used, i.e. it’s a technical issue in essence. However the Government has made the unwise decision to commit to zero carbon by 2050 which is both irrational and unaffordable in this writer’s view. UK policies will have very little impact on global CO2 emissions even if you accept that CO2 levels affect climate change (as opposed to vice versa) which many people do not.

Roger Lawson


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