Heathrow third runway judgment 'bitterly disappointing'

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent
Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Business leaders voiced alarm at the court of appeal’s ruling that plans for a third Heathrow runway are illegal, urging the government to continue to back expansion.

Supporters of the planned expansion warned that jobs and trade would be jeopardised if the third runway was halted again, after judges said ministers had insufficiently addressed the government’s climate change commitments in approving the airport’s expansion plans.

Heathrow has the right to appeal against the decision as an interested party and said it would seek to have the verdict overturned in the supreme court, but without government backing, the wider prospects for its expansion plans would be limited, regardless of legal success.

The government has indicated it will not appeal. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the decision was in line with Conservative policy as outlined in its manifesto, which “makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry led”.

The judgment explicitly did not rule out expansion, or say the government’s airports national policy statement was incompatible with the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. However, the government would need to undertake more work to ensure a third runway would not break its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Business communities across the UK will be bitterly disappointed that plans for a world-leading hub airport are now at risk.

“The benefits of a third runway would extend far beyond south-east England. Hundreds of UK companies are already invested in the supply chain for expansion, and tens of thousands of additional jobs will be created if the project goes ahead.

“There has never been a more important time to demonstrate that Britain is open for business. The government must back Heathrow expansion unequivocally and take all necessary steps to finally move the project forward.”

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, said the ruling was disappointing but did not veto Heathrow expansion. She said: “It is now vital that the government acts quickly to work with Heathrow on a swift solution, to ensure that this vital project is not delayed any further.

“Failure to do so now will risk the UK falling behind EU competitors and flies in the face of the government’s determination to make the country a great global trading nation after Brexit.”

The financial services trade body TheCityUK said the ongoing uncertainty was “a blow to any serious vision of a global Britain”. Miles Celic, chief executive, said: “The UK seems stuck in the international infrastructure slow lane. We shouldn’t be surprised if it means that we get overtaken by our competitors.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said delaying expansion would only increase congestion and block trade and jobs. General secretary Brian Strutton said: “We urge the government to ensure that Heathrow expansion fits within its Paris climate obligations and does so as quickly as possible. We need to get this done.”

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