Is A Third Runway At Heathrow Going To Be Built Or Not?

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The Court of Appeal ruled this morning that the current plan to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport is unlawful because the Government had not taken climate change commitments into account when it gave a green light to the expansion.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has since made clear on Twitter that the Government does not intend to appeal the ruling:

“This Govt won’t appeal today’s judgement given our manifesto makes clear any #Heathrow expansion will be industry led.”

You could easily be forgiven for thinking that this is therefore the end of the discussion, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Heathrow expansion is essentially a private project rather than a Government one and a spokesperson for the airport has indicated that they will attempt to get today’s ruling overturned in the Supreme Court:

“The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the government – including on “noise” and “air quality” – apart from one which is eminently fixable.  We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful.  In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised.  Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord. Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain.  We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”

Prime Minister Johnson has previously been a vocal opponent of Heathrow expansion (although it should be noted, not strictly on emissions grounds). By elevating fellow anti-Heathrow expansion campaigner (and former MP) Zac Goldsmith to the House of Lords, and reappointing him as an Environment Minister, it has been clear for some time that the Prime Minister’s views on Heathrow have not changed.

Despite it being a privately funded project, without strong political support it’s always been difficult to see how Heathrow can overcome the various hurdles that stand in the way of a third runway.

Bottom line

I’ve been sceptical for years about the chances of a third runway ever getting built. Today’s news only reinforces that view.


  1. cinereus says

    Even without gov backing, hopefully the carbon industry won’t take it to the Supreme court. Thank god for that, it would be a environmental disaster.

  2. Ben Lloyd says

    This is bad news for British businesses, the tourist industry and the economy in general. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider expansion at Stansted – along with a much-needed upgrade of the local transport connections – if the Heathrow project is officially dead.

    • Joe Deeney says

      Yes, I think the real problem with the Heathrow saga is that it never ends – which means that serious planning for alternatives doesn’t happen. From a policy perspective, it would arguably be better for a Government to decide ‘no more aviation expansion’ (as at least that would be clear and allow the industry and business more generally to adapt) than the constant distraction of the 3rd runway.

      • Tim says

        Meanwhile China has built three new airports the size of Stansted this week, adding to the two they built last week and the three they built the week before. And that’s with the current alleged virus epidemic ongoing….

  3. Alexander Fraser says

    Sadly, we’re in the traditional English muddle again. Heathrow is a prominent and valuable asset for the whole of the UK. Simply moving the runway to Stansted or Gatwick or anywhere else doesn’t help the overall emissions target for the country as a whole. Whilst the people living within earshot of Heathrow have lived with the noise and pollution nuisances for a prolonged time, their diminution may be fairly close. The advent of electricity or hydrogen fuelled aircraft, whilst not just around the corner, is closing in fast. Therefore, the best outcome might be a delay in consent for a third runway to allow the new technologies to be developed and introduced. After a period of 5 to 10 years the proposals could be revisited and permitted, subject to realistic assessment of the environmental improvements and changes expected. in other words, Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet!

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