Government will be challenged in the courts over Heathrow decision

Published: Thursday 8th December 16

Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead councils, together with Greenpeace and a resident of Hillingdon, have today served legal papers on the government for unlawfully supporting the expansion of Heathrow.

In a legal submission to the High Court, the ‘coalition’ is seeking a Judicial Review of the government’s decision to support the expansion of the airport – something that which the Government previously promised would never happen.

Harrison Grant Solicitors, on behalf of the ‘coalition’ have filed a formal request for a judicial review. If successful, it is hoped the case will be heard in the High Court early next year.

Together, the claimants argue that the Government has failed to recognise the project’s unlawful air quality impacts and that the consultation held to make the decision was fundamentally flawed. Therefore, the expansion of the airport cannot go ahead. In addition, the legal challenge seeks to hold Government to the promise that a third runway would never be built.

If the request is successful, and the coalition wins the judicial review, the decision to proceed with the runway would be overturned. 

Cllr Ray Puddifoot, Leader of Hillingdon Council said:

''The Government has stubbornly refused to accept that it is breaking the law on the very important issue of air quality in relation to Heathrow. Therefore, this Council, together with the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Richmond upon Thames, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Greenpeace and a Hillingdon resident, have had no option other than to issue judicial review proceedings in the High Court. 

"There are two grounds of challenge at this stage. In addition to our claim that there has been a significant breach of established air quality laws, we have also claimed that the Government has acted contrary to our legitimate expectation that it would honour its repeated promises not to expand Heathrow. However, it has been made very clear to the Government that we have fully reserved our position in relation to other matters of complaint such as climate change, equalities, noise pollution and the economic case for Heathrow expansion and that, if necessary, further legal proceedings will be brought in the future."

Lord True, Leader of Richmond Council, said:

“The expansion of Heathrow would be the worst action of any government in modern times. And, the process in which Ministers have made their decision is dishonest, incompetent and goes back on a six year commitment never to expand the airport.

“Millions of people have already told the Government that they won’t stand for any expansion. Indeed – 100,000 people voted NO in the referendum run by us and Hillingdon. Their objections have so far fallen on deaf ears. We have given the Government every opportunity to change their minds, to relook at the evidence that clearly shows expansion is not feasible. Instead they seem hell-bent on driving through an expansion that will create further havoc for the environment and way heavily on the public purse.

“Therefore we have no choice. We will take every available step to fight the expansion – in the courts and every other forum available to us. And stop it.”

Leader of Wandsworth Council, Cllr Ravi Govindia said:

“This feels like Groundhog Day for many of us. Back in 2010 we overturned the Brown Government’s plans for a third runway on environmental grounds and we’re now heading back to the same court to do it all over again. Six years later and we now know that air pollution is far more damaging to health and this expansion proposal is far bigger and more polluting than the last. It beggars belief that our Government has backed a plan which is so clearly untenable in law and common sense and we have been left with no choice but to defend our residents' interests in the courts.”

Cllr Simon Dudley, Leader of The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead; said:

“The Royal Borough has been very consistent in saying it will hold government to account for its decision and seek to protect our residents from the public health risks of an expanded Heathrow Airport. Our involvement in this legal action seeks to achieve those objectives, and in addition our long standing objections to and manifesto commitments to resist the expansion of Heathrow Airport and protect our residents.”

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven, said:

“Ministers have been clutching at straws to avoid admitting one simple fact – that it’s practically impossible to expand Heathrow without breaking air pollution rules and busting our climate targets. The government’s own advisers have warned that without steeper carbon cuts on the rest of the economy a third runway would breach the UK's climate targets. The government's air pollution plans have also been found wanting by a damning High Court ruling. It’s clear that ministers greenlighted the third runway without thinking through its repercussions for people and the environment. This is reckless and unlawful. If ministers are hell bent on disregarding the laws that protect us from pollution, a courtroom is where we’re going to hold them to account. We have stopped a third runway once before, and we can do it again.”

Christine Taylor, who lives in Harlington, close to Heathrow airport, and is a co-claimant in the Judicial Review, said:

"We lived under the shadow of a third runway for decades. Then we were promised over and over again that it wouldn't go ahead, and now the nightmare has started all over again. This is hugely unfair on local residents who were also promised that they wouldn’t still be suffering the high levels of noise and air pollution that Heathrow generates. Many people around here have made crucial choices like buying a home or taking up a job based on ministers' promises. Now their life plans have been shattered. If ministers want to go through with this injustice, we're ready to go to court to stop them."

Notes for editors

Judicial review is a process by which the courts review the lawfulness of a decision made (or sometimes lack of a decision made) or action taken (or sometimes failure to act) by a public body. It is mechanism by which a judge considers whether a public body has acted in accordance with its legal obligations and if not, can declare a decision taken by it invalid.

An alliance between Greenpeace and local councils successfully overturned the Brown Government’s backing for a third runway in the High Court in 2010, which prompted the incoming Cameron Government to emphatically rule it out.

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Recent comments

Does anyone know if the existing flight paths over Wandsworth will be retained when new paths are introduced with the 3rd runway? Thanks.

13 December 2016

Let’s get one thing clear here Govindia, you do not represent my view re Heathrow. My employment, and therefore the wellbeing of my family, Is directly linked to it’s presence. I truly resent the wasting of my council tax on this vain personal crusade and the indulgence of your narrow minded ‘little englander’ followers. Surely the money & time wasted on this would be better spent on adult & children social services and protecting the vulnerable. What about the toxic fumes from diesel vehicles at ground level – surely that is a more serious issue?
Leroy E

13 December 2016

Have I missed something here. We won't be in Europe by the time this runway is built, so we won't have to comply with any pollution rules. Also, remember how many people are employed in the boroughs around Heathrow - and how many more will be employed when the airport expands. Another runway will cutting out the planes holding before landing, that would do more for the environment than many people realise - the amount of fuel burnt is phenomenal, nobody talks about that. Also, the delays taking off, most big planes will burn 500 litres of fuel just taxiing/waiting to take off on a congested Heathrow runway - that's about 8 cars using a full tank, the figures are mindboggling. That's the real pollution. The 3rd runway is needed urgently.
Simon lilly

13 December 2016

the govt. are already arguing that Heathrow won't breach the air quality, even though they already have and obviously more planes mean more pollution. They claim Heathrow has 'said' that it will get better not worse!!!!! Proof??????

11 December 2016

Great job councils, you have my full support!
Noise is killing me

11 December 2016

I feel the noise pollution And air pollution is already At an inacceptable Level
Brian McNamara

10 December 2016

Really grateful that our Councils have residents best interest at hearts unlike our government. Been living in Battersea for 10 years and the noise pollution has got worse and worse, dread to think of the impact on air quality...a third runway over such a heavily populated area would be ludicrous, there has to be a better solution for all. Heathrow airport, the biggest planning error ever made.

10 December 2016

This legal action is an expensive total waste of Council Taxpayers' money. The third runway would answer a crying need for air travel provision. How many of the nimbyists supporting this action choose alternative means of travel when going on holiday or business trips abroad?
Anthony Finnegan

10 December 2016

Really? Utter NIMBY thinking by these councils and a total waste of money. London and the UK desperately needs this expansion, we have been dithering and procrastinating for a generation, just get on with it.
Richard Scott

9 December 2016

I also wholeheartedly oppose this action. Expansion at Heathrow has my support. Please do not squander council revenues on any legal challenge.
Peter Walker

9 December 2016

I wholeheartedly am opposed to this action. As a resident of Wandsworth, I have to enquire as to what consultation there has been from Wandsworth Council on this. The UK desperately needs a new runway. I cannot understand his NIMBY attitude.

9 December 2016

100% behind this action. Particularly interested in the 'ordinary citizen' from Harlington joining the action. Maybe the lawyers have said her participation is advisable or necessary, but nonetheless, what she has to say is powerful. Refreshing to read it. Good luck. IMHO, Grayling seems to be turning out to be a waste of space - not just on this issue; he has previous.
Fran Morrison

8 December 2016