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Heathrow Airport expansion faces multiple legal challenges

The government’s plan to fast-track the expansion of Heathrow Airport via the ‘national policy statement’ provisions of the Planning Act 2008 is almost certain to be confounded by legal challenges, planning law experts predicted today.

Angus Walker, partner at City firm Bircham Dyson Bell and a member of the Law Society’s planning and environmental law committee, said that the approval process set out by transport secretary Chris Grayling opened at least three opportunities for legal challenge.

Announcing the government’s preference for a third runway, Grayling, a former lord chancellor, said the planning process would involve the national policy statement (NPS) process designed by the last Labour government ‘to speed up major projects, but in an open and fair manner’.

The statement will be published in the new year and be subject to a vote in parliament and a consultation overseen by Sir Jeremy Sullivan, former senior president of tribunals.

This will be followed by a planning application which would be signed off by the secretary of state for transport.

However Walker said that recent challenges to other NPS schemes such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station give ‘an example of what’s likely to happen with Heathrow’.

He predicted challenges at three stages:

  • A possible judicial review of today’s announcement.
  • Of the NPS when it appears, under the challenge period created by the 2008 act.
  • During the six-week challenge period allowed following the secretary of state’s approval of the planning application.

In a foretaste of possible challenges, environmental group Greenpeace today said that expanding Heathrow ‘would fuel more climate change, creating over 50% more flights at what is already Europe’s largest airport. Scientists have warned that this will drastically undermine the UK’s ability to meet emission targets agreed upon in the Paris Agreement [on climate change]’.

By Michael Cross

(Courtesy of the Law Society Gazette)