Back To The Drawing Board: Heathrow’s Illegal Expansion Blocked

The UK’s Court of Appeal has ruled that proposals for Heathrow’s third runway are in breach of the nation’s legally binding climate change targets. Branded ‘illegal’, the plans for the expansion will now have to go back to the drawing board. This will come as a massive blow to airlines looking for more slots at the congested airport, many of whom were banking on the new runway for future growth plans.

Heathrow expansion blocked
Heathrow’s third runway has been ruled illegal by the UK’s Court of Appeal. Photo: Getty

What’s happening?

Today, the UK Court of Appeal sat to assess whether the proposed third runway at Heathrow was in breach of the nations’ climate change commitments. The plans, which were voted through previously, were challenged by various campaigners as being contrary to the UK’s legally binding CO2 reduction targets under the ratified Paris Agreement.

The decision was made that the third runway is indeed illegal, on the grounds of climate change commitments. The Court of Appeal ruled that any expansion to the airport is out of kilter with the government’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement. It’s the first court ruling in the world to be based on the agreement and could set a precedent for other carbon-intensive projects in future.


The UK government is expected to announce within a few hours whether they will appeal the decision or not. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a vocal opponent to the third runway prior to taking office, but has since switched sides to lend support to the expansions. However, Sky News states that it is expected there will be no challenge to the ruling.


Heathrow expansion blocked

Regardless of the government’s stance, Heathrow Airport has released a statement declaring it will indeed challenge this ruling. It claims that the issue that ruled the expansion illegal is “eminently fixable” and that it will “get it done the right way, without jeopardizing the planet’s future”.


An environmental challenge

The challenge to Heathrow’s expansion was led by a legal charity called Plan B. Tim Crosland of the charity told the Guardian,

“The court ruling is bad news for all businesses and investors in the carbon economy, who will have to factor in the increasing risks of legal challenges. But really it is good news for everyone, since all of us – including businesses and investors – depend on maintaining the conditions which keep the planet habitable.”

Plan B had argued that, under the Paris Agreement, the UK had ratified a target to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. They also claimed that the plans for the 3rd runway had failed to assess whether the new runway would impact on the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C.

Heathrow expansion blocked
Environmental campaigners gathered outside the Court this morning as the case was heard. Photo: Getty

But they weren’t the only opponents to the plan. Other legal challenges had been brought by local residents, by councils, by the Mayor of London and by various environmental groups including Friends of the Earth.

The parties argued that Chris Grayling, then the transport secretary, had ignored various pressing factors of the project when he approved it in 2018. These included things like air quality, noise pollution and traffic congestion. All appeals were dismissed, apart from the carbon reduction issue.

A little wiggle room

Although the plans, as they stand, have been firmly blocked by the Court of Appeal this morning, that’s not to say there will be no reissuing of other plans. Right now, the third runway needs to go back to the drawing board, but the appetite for expansion at Heathrow has not entirely died.

There is a little wiggle room in the negotiations, in that, if the airport and designers can show that the expansion can go ahead without breaching the Paris Agreement, it could end up seeking approval once again.

Heathrow expansion blocked
There was also a gathering of supporters, backing the Heathrow expansion. Photo: Getty

What is for sure is that the original 2026 target for the third runway opening is no longer realistic. In fact, anything sooner than 2030 would be a miracle. This will come as a huge blow for airlines looking to snap up coveted spots at Europe’s busiest airport, and in particular Virgin Atlantic who had already defined a wishlist of new flights to operate from their additional slots.

What do you think about the blocking of Heathrow’s third runway? Good or bad news? Let us know in the comments.


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Murray Henley

Politicians have tried for a long time to cozy up to climate alarmists in a bid to get the green voters. Now, the strategy is blowing in their face, as alarmist, with the help of most of the media, have seized control of the agenda and are using all means legal or not, to impose their beliefs on the whole of society.

It’s too late now. Climate realists have lost. The madness will have to run its course. Interesting article explaining how it happened:


I genuinely don’t know anything about the numbers, but…..
I wonder aloud how much a high speed rail or near silent Maglev link between LHR & LGW would cost, by comparison to the complete cost if getting that 3rd runway operational.?
There is capacity available at Southend, Stanstead, Luton & Gatwick when its already agreed 2nd runway is in place.

The problem is Heathrow capacity, not London capacity.
If 2, more or all the 5 ‘London’ airports were combined by dedicated fast trains, making them work like separate terminals of one massive 7 runway, 10 terminal airport, there’d be no need for extra runways in the near term, as all of London’s airports would work as one.!

RH Hastings

What are the alternatives? Prior suggestions include building a brand new airport out east on the Thames (was a Boris Johnson favorite), adding a runway at Gatwick, what else? Add a runway at Stansted?

Heathrow is closest to London center but is probably more costly more for the land, major road/highway realignments, village acquisitions, and the proposed 3rd runway is off set which may be costlier in other aspects. Heathrow access from London is really good like via the tube and Heathrow Express. Aircraft do fly over many parts of London especially approaches. Most airlines use this airport. Climate change issues still there.

Gatwick is maybe 1/3 further from London than Heathrow? It has good access via the Gatwick Express train, but no direct link to Heathrow for transfers. Land may be cheaper to acquire. Landings and take-offs are pretty much over open land. The local town south of the airport may be disturbed a bit more. Many major airlines already use this airport. Is there a climate change issue for this?

Stansted is just too far. Luton too small.

While it may be best have one central airport when will expansion really happen for all the complexities of Heathrow? An expansion at Gatwick might be less costly but they’ll need to do something about interchange, like split the airline alliances between them and/or put in some high speed train link to Heathrow. Need to compare total costs.


I do hope that Heathrow win their appeal. The fact is that the climate agenda is here to stay and is not going away. Heathrow know this and will do what they need to do, to address it.

If they do not win then, there are one or two other possibIlities:

Gatwick – it actually already has two runways. It’s main runway and then a second taxiway which can also be used for emergencies if need be. It’s won’t take much to widen it a little and create the required “gap” from the main runway, to legitimately turn Gatwick into a two runway airport.

Heathrow – why not go for the extended runway option. I think it was an ex BA pilot that proposed extending one of the runways by about a mile. This would allow that runway to in effect act as two runways. But crucially, not have anywhere near the impact on the surrounding environment that a full third runway would have.

Many people have commented on the need for fast efficient connection between Heathrow and Gatwick. I completely agree. But then, for some extraordinary reason, building that will cost £1 trillion and be challenged by Friends of the Earth et al…..!

We need to be thinking a bit more imaginatively about this. We can do it.


Oh, I forgot to say, please forget Stansted. It is a miserable place, best described as a second rate shopping centre that you can get to by plane. And the Stansted “Express” is frankly laughable.



Chi Hou Tang

So airplanes queuing on ground and in air to land is greener than a 3rd runway that can avoid traffic congestion ?