Campaigners trying to block the expansion of Heathrow Airport have failed in their bid to persuade the High Court that the Government’s decision to designate the Airports National Policy Statement (“ANPS”), including the process which led to the designation, was flawed by legal error.

The ANPS is a policy document which sets out the Government’s position on the need for new airport capacity in the South East of England and the preferred scheme, namely a new 3,500 metre runway at Heathrow which would enable at least 26,000 extra flights per annum.

On Wednesday 1 May 2019, the High Court dismissed five claims for judicial review which challenged the Government’s decision to designate the ANPS under section 5(1) of the Planning Act 2008. The decisions, which were handed down in two separate judgments by Mr Justice Holgate, Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Marcus Smith, are available to view here.

The first four claims for judicial review challenged the Government’s decision on 22 grounds ([2019] EWHC 1070 (Admin)). The claimants comprised the London Borough of Hillingdon and four adjacent boroughs, the Mayor of London, several non-Government environmental organisations (including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth) and one individual claimant (Mr Spurrier) who all oppose the expansion of Heathrow. The grounds that the Court considered arguable concerned matters relating to climate change, air quality, surface access, noise and habitats.

In respect of climate change, the claimants unsuccessfully argued that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by not taking into account the Paris Agreement. They also claimed he failed to apply the precautionary principle and acted irrationally by concluding that the new runway wouldn’t breach UK’s obligations under the Air Quality Directive, and that he relied upon unjustified assumptions about the deliverability of public transport schemes and the effectiveness of Clean Air Zones. On the surface access point, they argued the Secretary of State failed to take into account information and modelling which considered the adverse impacts of more people travelling to and from Heathrow by road as a result of the additional runway, and that he erred in adopting unrealistic mode share targets in the ANPS. Claims relating to the inadequacy of the noise assessment and the consideration of alternatives under the Habitats Directive were also dismissed.

The fifth claim ([2019] EWHC 1070 (Admin)) was brought by the promoters of a rival Heathrow expansion scheme – Heathrow Hub Limited and Runway Innovations Limited. Unlike the other four claims, the claimants did not challenge the ANPS insofar as it establishes the need for new airport capacity which is best met by expanding Heathrow. Instead, they argued that the Secretary of State wrongly preferred the proposal for a ‘new’ runway at Heathrow over their scheme, which would double the length of the existing northern runway to allow it to operate as two independent runways. The arguments focussed on legitimate expectation and anti-competition however were unsuccessful on all five grounds.

Costs against the claimants have not yet been finalised but could be significant. The claimants may apply for permission to appeal and some of the campaigners have already come out saying they will continue to fight the controversial expansion – a battle which has been ongoing since the 1980s and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down soon. Even if this hurdle is overcome, the next stage of the planning process is an application for a development consent order which presents further opportunities for opponents to make representations on the proposal. According to the Planning Inspectorate website, this application is expected to be submitted by Heathrow Airport Limited in 2019/2020.