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UK supreme court rules Heathrow third runway can go ahead

Dec. 16, 2020
3 min read
Aerial view west of Heathrow Airport
UK supreme court rules Heathrow third runway can go ahead
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Heathrow’s third runway made headway toward becoming a reality this week. On Wednesday, the U.K. supreme court overturned a February judgment that ruled the third runway illegal.

With Wednesday’s overturned decision, the third runway project can now seek planning permission. However, all is not certain, as the ultimate completion of the runway is still a long way off.

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At this point, the airport can now seek a development consent order, or planning permission to go forward with the third runway. However, there are still dozens of approvals that need to take place before the runway gets the final go-ahead. In fact, a third runway likely won’t be a reality until at least 2030.

Wednesday’s U.K. supreme court ruling overturned a February court of appeal decision that found that the government’s approval was illegal because it failed to take into account the U.K.’s 2015 Paris climate accord agreements. In that, the U.K. agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and “well below” two degrees of warming, according to Sky News.

The supreme court found that it was unnecessary and overturned the decision, as reported by the Guardian.

A spokesperson for Heathrow said Wednesday’s decision was the “right result for the country.” However, given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on air travel, Heathrow has said that a third runway could be delayed by five years beyond its previous target date of 2028.

“Only by expanding the U.K.’s hub airport can we connect all of Britain to all of the growing markets of the world, helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of our country,” the spokesperson said.

“Demand for aviation will recover from COVID-19, and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.

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“Heathrow has already committed to net zero and this ruling recognizes the robust planning process that will require us to prove expansion is complaint with the U.K’s climate change obligation, including the Paris climate agreement, before construction can begin,” the spokesperson said.

A potential third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport has been an idea for 17 years. It’s been the subject of a convoluted web of legal battles and debate between climate activists and those seeking to expand the airport’s global presence.

Related: London set to get its seventh airport by 2023

With a third runway, Heathrow would be able to accommodate about 740,000 takeoffs and landings each year, compared to the 480,000 it currently can accommodate with two runways.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Heathrow was the busiest airport in Europe, accounting for more than 80.8 million passengers in 2019. Between January and September 2020, just 19 million passengers transited through Heathrow, leading the airport to lose its title as the busiest in Europe to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle.

Featured image by Aerial Photography view west ofHeathrow airport with the runways and terminal buildings, London Hounslow Middlesex TW6 UK. Photo by Andrew Holt / Gettys Images