The Chilterns Conservation Board is disappointed to learn that the Supreme Court has overturned previous legal rulings and determined that it was lawful for the government to confirm its support for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, including the construction of a third runway, through the publication of the Airports National Policy Statement in June 2018.
This decision, given on 16 December, hinges on the technicality of whether it was lawful for the government to make that decision at that time in the context of the Paris Agreement of 2015. Importantly, the ruling does not determine whether the proposed airport expansion should now go ahead, merely that it is lawful for it to be proposed in government policy.
The ruling itself notes (para 166) that “the applicant for a DCO* would have to address the environmental rules and policies which were current when its application would be determined”.
The Chilterns Conservation Board remains opposed to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Our view is that the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is likely to be impacted by the expansion due to:
- The impact of flightpaths on the tranquillity and public enjoyment of the AONB;
- The impact on air quality in the AONB;
- The impact on wildlife and habitats of the AONB, including globally rare Chilterns chalk streams and sites of European significance (Special Areas of Conservation);
- Climate change impacts on the AONB
- Heating of the local housing market from job growth, affecting the affordability of housing for local communities in the Chilterns.
Since publication of the Airports National Policy Statement, there have been many changes to the context surrounding the proposals for Heathrow, none of which support the development. These include:
- The Glover review of protected landscapes recommending that the Chilterns be considered for National Park status;
- The nation’s trajectory in terms of meeting its legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions;
- Greater understanding of the decline in the UK’s biodiversity, coupled with the government’s own commitments on nature recovery, plus an increased awareness of how important a connection with nature is to people’s physical and mental well-being (magnified in the context of Covid-19);
- Better understanding of the detail of the development proposals, including especially their direct physical impacts on the region’s chalk streams, already threatened by a range of pressures, including pollution, climate change and over-abstraction;
- Cumulative impacts of this proposal on the Chilterns in the context of other highly damaging schemes such as HS2 and the proposed new Thames crossing at Reading;
- The massive changes to the nature and viability of air travel and surface travel to airports as a result of the climate emergency, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is still a long way to go before the plans for expanding Heathrow can be approved as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, and the promoters have not yet submitted an application to the Planning Inspectorate (which had originally been scheduled for 2020, following consultations in 2018-19).
We will endeavour to keep readers up to date. In the meantime, sources of more information about the proposals and their progress include the following:
* Development Consent Order