London councils reunite in court to overturn Heathrow expansion plans

Four London councils, along with environmental charity Greenpeace, have confirmed they will launch a legal challenge to try to stop plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.

The government finally announced its decision on airport expansion on Wednesday, but the councils argue it will make air pollution, noise pollution and transport pressures in their areas much worse.

Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Winsor and Maidenhead councils, all of which are Conservative-controlled, are challenging their own government over the decision after launching a similar case which forced the Brown government to shelve the plans in 2010.

Cllr Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council, said: “The prime minister should now be in no doubt about the scale of opposition Heathrow expansion will face.

“A scheme this environmentally offensive will unite a force of opposition no government can overcome. It’s wrong on every level, legally undeliverable and will end in failure after years of wasted effort. We once again urge the government to accept the inevitable and rule out Heathrow.”

In a joint statement, Greenpeace and the councils said new evidence on the severe health impacts of air and noise pollution meant that the project is even less likely to pass judicial review than in 2010.

They have jointly hired Harrison Grant Solicitors to represent them in a legal challenge to the decision.

Cllr Ray Pudifoot, leader of Hillingdon Council, said: “A new runway at Heathrow will make already illegal air pollution levels around the airport worse and give Heathrow a noise pollution record that is worse than the top five European airports put together.

“We urge the government to consider Gatwick as the most realistic and sustainable option, and one which can be delivered at a much reduced cost to the taxpayer and with far less damage to the environment and wellbeing of people.”

John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, added that a third runway would be “an air pollution and a carbon time bomb”, jeopardising the government’s chances to meeting “legally-binding air pollution and climate targets”.

“Theresa May has made much of her determination to help ordinary people and hold corporations to account,” he added. “The decision on airport expansion will be the acid test of whether she's willing to deliver on that promise.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan also announced his opposition to the plans, arguing that Heathrow expansion is the “wrong decision for London and the whole decision for the whole of Britain”.

“The government are running roughshod over Londoners' views – just five months ago I was elected as mayor on a clear platform of opposing a new runway at Heathrow, a position that was shared by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP candidates in that election,” Khan added.

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park and Khan’s former rival for mayor, fulfilled a pledge to resign when the decision was announced.

“The government has chosen the most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive option,” he said. “But it has also chosen the option with the least chance of being delivered. The sheer complexity, cost and legal difficulties mean it is unlikely ever to happen. It will be a millstone round this government’s neck for years.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents security, management, air traffic and borders staff at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, said the union would oppose the plans majorly because of concerns about jobs as well as climate change.

“Our members are understandably concerned about their jobs, but we have yet to see convincing evidence about the number and quality of jobs that would be created from expansion,” he said.

Serwotka added that the decision contradicted the government’s commitment in the Paris agreement to keep global temperature rises below two degrees.

But announcing the decision in Parliament, transport secretary Chris Grayling said a third runway at Heathrow “offers the greatest level of benefit to passengers, business and to help us deliver the broadest possible benefit to the whole of the UK”.

He added that the government would have to “tackle air quality and noise, and meet our obligations on carbon both during and after construction”.

(Image c. Frank Augstein from AP/ Press Association Images)

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