Councils and campaigners take first step towards Heathrow legal challenge

Published: 17 November 2016

Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead Councils, together with Greenpeace and a resident of Hillingdon, have today written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling demanding he withdraws Government support for Heathrow expansion or face court action.

The pre-action protocol letter, sent on behalf of the claimants by Harrison Grant Solicitors, gives ministers 14 days to reverse their decision to back a third runway. If they fail to comply judicial review proceedings will commence in the High Court. 

The letter argues that the Government has failed to recognise the project’s unlawful air quality and noise impacts and that ministers failed to carry out a fair and lawful consultation prior to issuing the decision.

The 33 page pre-action letter sets out comprehensive grounds for legal challenge, drawing on a broad range of statute and legal precedent, as well as highlighting the many promises and statements made by senior politicians confirming that the third runway would not be built.

The move comes shortly after the Government’s air quality plans were overturned in the High Court, putting ministers under greater pressure to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in places like Heathrow. The latest court ruling rejected the current government plans to tackle emissions as inadequate and based on over optimistic assumptions.

Cllr Ray Puddifoot Leader of Hillingdon Council said: “I was in the High Court in March 2010 at the last JR on Heathrow expansion when the judge referred to the third runway plans as ‘untenable in law and common sense’. Six years on it is unbelievable that the current Government are promoting an expansion that is still untenable in law and common sense and it is simply not acceptable in this country. This is the first round of this legal challenge and whilst we should win by a knockout in the first round we are prepared for a long fight if necessary.”

Lord True Leader of Richmond Council said: “Heathrow expansion is one of the worst government decisions in modern times – dishonest, in that it reverses a clear commitment; incompetent, in that it took six years to get to Base A (from which it will never proceed); indefensible economically, in that it is the most costly and polluting option and the most likely to involve charges on public funds; illogical, in that it is the slowest to deliver and a staggering affront to every principle of competition and careless of the public good, in that is the most polluting and the most disruptive of the public.  This legal challenge is only one route to block the Heathrow juggernaut. There will be others.”

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia said: “Heathrow expansion is incompatible with environmental legislation and the process leading up to this decision has been deeply flawed. Ministers have not listened to our warnings so we have no choice but to take legal action. The simple truth is that Heathrow is in the wrong place for a major airport and its location amplifies its damaging impacts to world beating levels. Expansion will make this dire situation much worse. An objective assessment from the High Court is bound to conclude that you can’t mitigate against such a bad location.”

Leader of Windsor and Maidenhead Council Simon Dudley said: "The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead will hold Government to account for its decisions and protect our residents from such decisions should they prove to be unlawful.”

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “It’s clear that the government has greenlighted the third runway despite having no solution to the huge air and noise pollution problems it will cause. This is reckless and unlawful. Expanding Heathrow will heap more misery on hundreds of thousands of Londoners already breathing illegal air pollution, expose more people to aircraft noise, and drive carbon emissions through the roof. It will make it practically impossible for the government to comply with air pollution laws and court rulings. Either the laws of physics will be suspended, or the laws of the land will be broken. If ministers are hell bent on disregarding the laws that protect our health, a courtroom is where we’re going to hold them to account.”

Harrison Grant Solicitors has been working with the claimants over several months to develop the case against Heathrow expansion.

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.

The claimants say today’s Heathrow expansion scheme is even bigger and has more severe environmental impacts than the 2010 proposal, and will fail the same legal tests. They argue that new evidence on the severe health impacts of air and noise pollution make the new scheme far less likely to pass judicial review.

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