Sadiq Khan and London councils launch legal action over Heathrow expansion

London mayor Sadiq Khan and five councils in the capital, backed by Greenpeace, have taken the first step towards a legal challenge against Heathrow’s proposed third runway on grounds of air quality, noise and climate change.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has been made aware of the intention to seek a judicial review following parliament approval when the government-backed scheme passed the Commons by 415 votes to 119 - a majority of 296 last month. 

The government has pledged that the airport will be built at no cost to the taxpayer, create up to 100,000 new jobs and benefit the entire country through guaranteed internal flights to the rest of the UK. But environmental groups along with the challenge filed by Khan and London councils have argued how expansion will result in thousands being displaced and blighted by noise and increased pollution levels.

Khan said: “When the government confirmed it was pressing ahead with a new runway at Heathrow, I said I would immediately join the legal action brought by local authorities in opposition to the plans. This process is now under way, with a pre-application letter now submitted to the government. Heathrow expansion will result in hundreds of thousands of people being blighted by intolerable noise levels and worsening air quality in an area where pollution is already well above legal levels. The Government has failed to demonstrate how it will fund the billions of pounds needed to improve road and rail connections to the airport.”

The five councils behind the action include Hammersmith and Fulham, Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, and Windsor and Maidenhead. A letter signed by all five has been sent to the Department for Transport (DfT) challenging the decision on the grounds of air quality, climate change, noise pollution and transport access.

Ray Puddifoot, leader of Hillingdon council, said: “We have given the government numerous opportunities to address our concerns and answer our questions and they have demonstrably failed to do so . . . The evidence of unacceptable damage to the environment and the health and wellbeing of many thousands of people is untenable in both law and common sense.”

However, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye disputed the impact of any judicial review when speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence last month. “The judicial reviews are going to run in parallel with the planning process so we will crack on with preparations,” he said. “If you think about HS2, I think they had maybe four or five reviews and it didn’t hold up the progress of the rail network and the same will happen with Heathrow. But I think it’s important they happen as we have got to give confidence to local people so they know where they stand, but equally we are making a massive investment in our supply chain both locally and nationally so we need to get on and create the pipeline of jobs needed to build the runway.”

Moving forward, a judicial review will only not be initiated in the highly likely event that the government decides to overturn the decision, in the form of a National Policy Statement. With the overwhelming amount of MPs backing the scheme in parliament it would be remarkable for the government to perform a U-turn.

Commenting on a possible judicial review, a DfT spokesperson said: “As the secretary of state has made clear, we are confident in the decision-making process which led to designation of the Airports National Policy Statement, and stand ready to defend it robustly against legal challenge.”

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