By Sarah Bates
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Activists celebrate ruling against Heathrow third runway—but prepare to fight on

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Issue 2694
Planes at Heathrow airport
Planes at Heathrow airport (Pic: Mike McBey/Flickr creative commons)

Activists were celebrating on Thursday after plans against Heathrow Airport expansion were blocked in a dramatic court ruling.

The Court of Appeal said the planned third runway was unlawful because it didn’t take into account the government’s climate change targets.

It’s a hugely significant moment against plans to construct a project that will wreak environmental damage on a local level, as well as contributing to global climate catastrophe.

And it is a direct result of mass action over the climate emergency.

A group of environmental groups, west London councils and Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, brought the legal challenge.

Friends of the Earth, which was part of the court action, said the result was “an absolutely groundbreaking result for climate justice.

Will Rundle from the group said, “This judgement has exciting wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions.

“It’s time for developers and public authorities to be held to account when it comes to the climate impact of their damaging developments.”

Heathrow bosses want a third runway to bring in another 700 more planes a day—causing carbon emissions to shoot up. This spells disaster for reducing carbon emissions.

Boris Johnson famously said he would “lie down in the front of those bulldozer and stop construction”. He was worried about opposition to the expansion among voters in his nearby west London constituency.

But since his government has said it won’t contest the Court of Appeal ruling, he may not need to be exposed for the opportunistic hypocrite he is.

Heathrow bosses plan to appeal the decision, and judges said the plans could go ahead if they fit with Britain’s climate policy.

John Stewart, from the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise warned that Tories who want a third runway could force the government to re-write the plans.


“The third runway has got a lot of support within the Tory Party,” he told Socialist Worker. “Boris Johnson could sort this out if he wanted to. But I don’t think he does. He has been looking for a way to drop the third runway without him having to take the decision.”

Environmental groups argued that the plans flew in the face of the commitments the British government made in the Paris climate talks.

They said that a third runway wasn’t consistent with the target of keeping global temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees as possible.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of this challenge—but dismissed other challenges that raised air and noise pollution, traffic and the cost of the runway.

The ruling is historic because it is the first time the Paris Agreement has been formally named as a reason to stop infrastructure.

Lord Justice Lindblom said, “The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the secretary of state. The national planning statement was not produced as the law requires.”

Disgracefully, the Unite union blasted the result, claiming that “hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk” if the government didn’t push through Heathrow expansion.

Instead of throwing their weight behind fossil fuel-guzzling industries, unions should fight for green jobs that put workers at the heart of the energy transition.

The ruling shows the kind of impact the movement over the climate crisis has had.

And it’s a victory for local campaigners, some of who have spent decades battling plans that could destroy communities and cause huge destruction to the local environment.

The best way to completely kill off Heathrow’s third runway is to build a movement that fights on every front for climate justice.

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