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Campaigning against unsustainable expansion

On Monday 25th June 2018, MPs voted in favour of the Government’s proposal for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. In total, 534 MPs voted, with a result of 415 to 119 in favour. The NPS was formally designated the next day, triggering the start of a six-week period during which any applications for judicial reviews of the decision must be lodged. Heathrow can now start the process to apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO), the form of consent for major infrastructure projects in England and Wales. Subject to the third runway proposal surviving legal challenge, the DCO application will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in 2020. Heathrow will then need to convince the Planning Inspectorate that it has met the expectations of the NPS and will require sign off from the Secretary of State.

In October 2016, the Government announced its support for Heathrow expansion. To deliver this, however, it needs parliamentary approval of the National Policy Statement (NPS) that sets out the rationale for the plan, as well as any key conditions.

The Transport Committee, appointed to provide the official parliamentary scrutiny of the NPS, published its recommendations to Government on 23rd March 2018. The committee, unsurprisingly given its long-standing stance on the provision of more capacity, was supportive of Heathrow expansion. But it concluded that the Government risks successful legal challenge on a number of grounds if the conditions and commitments in the NPS relating to both environmental impacts and costs to passengers are not addressed.

The Government is now considering whether to make any changes to the draft document to reflect input from the Transport Committee and from its public consultation, before putting a final version of the NPS to a vote in the House of Commons, which is expected before the summer break. Legal challenges to the NPS can be made only after – and if – the NPS is voted through and it becomes designated.

If it is not successfully blocked in court, the NPS would then be passed to the Planning Inspectorate to work out the details of implementation together with the airport by means of an application for a Development Consent Order consistent with the NPS framing. Heathrow has already consulted with the public on its plans in the hope that the NPS will be designated.

Our view

The draft NPS fails to show how a new South East runway would be compatible with key environmental targets and legal requirements:

  • It fails to ensure that expansion won’t compromise air quality targets. The Government’s view is that Heathrow expansion ‘could be’ compatible with NO2 legal limits. But this is dependent on future air quality measures for road vehicles being so effective that they can create headroom for the additional emissions associated with expansion. No enforcement measures are linked to Heathrow expansion if this assumption proves optimistic.
  • It does not demonstrate how the UK’s climate change obligations will be met if Heathrow expands. The Committee on Climate Change recommends aviation CO2 emissions should not exceed 37.5 Mt by 2050. A third runway would push UK aviation emissions beyond this limit. While some options for tackling the overshoot were identified by consultants, each had its own legal, financial or regulatory barriers that would need to be overcome.
  • It fails to provide precise mapping of all of those newly overflown as a result of expansion. This means hundreds of thousands of people may not be aware that they will be directly impacted by the third runway.

What we want to see

  • Any decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow, or other airport expansion plan, must demonstrate how it can avoid jeopardising compliance with the UK’s legal obligations on climate change and air quality, and must be able to deliver effective protection from noise.

What we’re doing

Unless the final NPS meets these environmental criteria we will urge Parliament and, if necessary, the court to challenge it. To highlight our position, on the basis of the draft NPS:

  • We gave written and oral evidence to the Parliamentary Transport Committee as part of its formal inquiry into the draft NPS.
  • We responded in detail to the Government’s consultation on the draft NPS.
  • We have given a number of media interviews arguing against the expansion of Heathrow or Gatwick.
  • We urged MPs to vote against the final NPS unless it meets the climate change, air quality and noise criteria we have set out.


Reasons to vote against Heathrow’s third runway [2018]:

Why the third runway plan can’t fly [2017] infographic

Briefing 1 Heathrow third runway: climate change [2017]

Briefing 2 Heathrow third runway: noise pollution [2017]

Briefing 3 Heathrow third runway: air quality [2017]

Briefing 4 Heathrow third runway: economics and UK-wide impacts [2017]